WASHINGTON — U.S. Rep. Tom Cotton, R-Dardanelle, on Friday welcomed a U.S. Supreme Court decision this week that the timber industry need not obtain federal storm water discharge permits for their forest roads.
The ruling, Cotton said, is a "welcome step towards providing the certainty Arkansas’ hardworking timber producers desperately need. It rolls back an earlier, misguided court ruling that would have required a permit for timber roads."
In a 7-1 decision, the high court reversed a 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling that logging roads did fall under the Clean Water Act permit requirement. The Northwest Environmental Defense Center in Portland, Ore., had challenged the EPA interpretation of the law that exempted logging roads from the permit requirement.
Writing for the majority, Justice Anthony Kennedy said EPA had been "consistent in its view" and given the history of state regulation of storm water runoff the agency "could reasonably have concluded that further federal regulation would be duplicative or counterproductive."
The National Alliance of Forest Owners also welcomed the decision, which NAFO President Dave Tenny said validated EPA’s longstanding policy that rainwater runoff from forest roads is best addressed through state adopted best management practices.
But Tenny cautioned that private forest owners could still face lawsuits challenging the December 2012 regulation that EPA issued to address the 9th Circuit decision.
The amended regulation specifies that only four types of logging operation activities could fall under the storm water discharge permitting requirement: Rock crushing, gravel washing, log sorting and log storage facilities.
Tenny said Congress should enact permanent legislation to preserve the existing EPA regulations.
Cotton said he was disappointed the Supreme Court had not repealed EPA’s amended rule, which he claimed "overturned a deep-rooted state/federal partnership that allowed states to manage forest roads and prevent pollution with their own ‘best practices.’"
However, Cotton’s analysis appears at odds with the interpretation of the forest industry. Kristina McNitt, president of the Oregon Forest Industries Council, was quoted in the Oregonian as saying the Supreme Court had showed deference to EPA and Oregon’s 1971 Forest Practices Act.
"We’re feeling pretty good that the court basically agreed with EPA and agreed with us. Congress intended for the states to establish these practices," she told the Oregonian.