You may want to run out to your backyard and make sure any mud puddles or water-filled ditches are being properly maintained, or you could be violating the EPA’s Clean Water Act.
The Washington Examiner reports on the latest job-killing regulatory overreach that may be forced on the logging and forestry industries – which incidentally employ 2.5 million American workers and are one of the few vibrant manufacturing industries we have left in this country.
Let’s break this down:
For the past several decades, the EPA has followed a sensible policy when enforcing the Clean Water Act as it relates to forest roads:
For 35 years, the Environmental Protection Agency has understood silviculture — the act of harvesting trees, as opposed to processing them — to be an agricultural activity, not a manufacturing one. The distinction is vital because of particulars in the Clean Water Act. Runoff from “point-source” manufacturing facilities (including saw mills) is closely regulated. Permits are required, and an involved monitoring and remediation process is prescribed.
On the other hand, the “natural runoff” from forest roads — basically mud puddles that accumulate in ditches — has never required such permits or monitoring. It is cared for through what is known as “best management practices.”
However, a suit brought against paper company Georgia-Pacific by leftist environmental group Northwest Environment Defense Center led to the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruling against this longtime EPA precedent:
But in the case Georgia-Pacific West Inc. v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals turned this long-standing rule on its head. The court said that the EPA has been misinterpreting its own rules for 35 years, and that, in fact, forest roads must be regulated in similar fashion to factories and power plants.
The Ninth Circuit decision, if upheld, would crush forestry in the Pacific Northwest. As Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon put it, “One court would shut down forestry on private, state and tribal lands by subjecting it to the same, endless cycle of litigation.”
There’s that pesky Ninth Circuit again.
The case heads to the Supreme Court this spring, where until recently the Obama administration and the EPA had remained consistent with the standing policy:
So far in the litigation process, the Obama EPA and Justice Department have sided with the industry, adhering to the traditional, 35-year-old interpretation of EPA rules.
But before we get too excited that Obama may actually stand up to radical environmentalists for once, his lawyers’ latest brief puts that up for debate:
But in its most recent brief, the federal government’s lawyers included a curious passage that has caused a small panic among the logging industry’s legal team.
It essentially asserts that EPA has never before officially stated its decades-old position in writing, that runoff collected in man-made roadside ditches counts as “natural runoff.”
If the Supreme Court upholds the Circuit Court decision, it will bring the forestry industry to a standstill as businesses worry they’ll be sued at every turn. At a time when our economy is struggling and we hear a lot of talk about the government “creating jobs” it would be a bit absurd if we didn’t move to protect the few thriving industries that we have.
The ask of Obama here really isn’t a large one – he simply needs to uphold his own agency’s longtime policy. As the Supreme Court (and the 2012 election) moves closer, we’ll see if he will once again take the side of the environmental left over American workers and the businesses that employ them.
Crossposted at Conservative Outlooks