Posted: Thursday, January 24, 2013 12:00 PM
Fight continues over regulation of logging roads as pollution source points
An environmental group has appealed a federal rule that exempts runoff from logging roads from Clean Water Act regulations.
The legal action is the the latest twist in a longstanding court battle over whether such runoff should be considered pollution and subject to permitting requirements.
Forest owners fear Clean Water Act permits would greatly increase the expense and complication of timber harvests and forest management.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency previously did not require such permits for logging roads but in 2010 the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that logging runoff conveyed through ditches and culverts must be regulated as a "point source" of pollution.
That decision is now being reviewed by the U.S. Supreme Court.
However, shortly before oral arguments in the case last December, the EPA revised its regulations to again preclude the need for permits.
That revision has now been challenged in the 9th Circuit by the Northwest Environmental Defense Center, an environmental group that filed previous lawsuits calling for Clean Water Act regulation of logging roads.
The group has filed a "protective appeal" that may or may not proceed, depending on the U.S. Supreme Court's decision in the previous case.
Meanwhile, the nation's highest court has asked for the parties to file additional legal arguments by Jan. 22 about what the effect of EPA's new rule should have on the case.
During oral arguments last December, the debate largely centered on whether the case is moot now that EPA won't require Clean Water Act permits for logging roads.
An attorney representing the timber industry and the State of Oregon argued that the fundamental question of whether logging road runoff should be regulated as pollution should be resolved by the Supreme Court.
Otherwise, the issue will likely continue to be litigated in federal courts for years and will likely end up before the Supreme Court yet again, he said.