Court Decision Would Cripple Logging

Published in the Cheney Free Press, Okanogan Valley Gazette, Newport Miner, Davenport Times, and Grand Coulee Star.
 

At a time of so much economic suffering, a flawed decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals is threatening to add further harm to Eastern WashingtonOs economy, specifically our forest industries. The Court's decision that forest stormwater runoff produced during logging must be regulated by the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) rather than by state forestry laws overturn 35 years of federal environmental policy.

If upheld, it will severely cripple one of Eastern Washington's most important industries and cause the needless loss of thousands of jobs in our region. I can’t emphasize enough the implications to the area if left unaddressed and the need for bipartisan support to reverse this decision.

It's important: Half of Washington is forested, with nine million acres managed by state and private landowners. The forest industry supports more than 130,000 jobs statewide, many of which are in rural communities with high unemployment rates.

Today, forest runoff produced by harvesting is regulated under the CWA as a ”nonpoint source of pollution,” a policy the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has followed for the past 25 years. Under this policy, each state is empowered to draft its own rules to ensure compliance.

The Northwest Environmental Defense Center (NEDC), however, felt this policy was insufficient and sued to have logging listed as an industry that needs "point-source" permits. That is, each logging site would be regulated as if it were a permanent industrial facility.

Because the Ninth Circuit ruled in the NEDC's favor, it means that landowners would need to get a separate federal permit for every culvert and bridge under their roads and an appeal of any one permit could bring logging to a standstill. Thousands of small forest landowners in Eastern Washington, already struggling, could be forced out of business.

To prevent this devastating decision from going forward, I have worked with Rep. Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), who represents the timber communities of Southwest Washington, to introduce H.R. 2541, the Silviculture Regulatory Consistency Act. This legislation — cosponsored by Republicans and Democrats — will restore the federal government's previous policy under CWA and protect jobs.

House Republicans are pushing forward forcibly to see the law enacted. We've already added the bill, in the form of an amendment, to the 2012 Interior appropriations bill – giving us another vehicle to get the law over to the Senate for their consideration.

As a member of the House leadership team, I am confident that we'll see progress on the legislation. In the meantime, the EPA and Forest Service are continuing to regulate water runoff as they have always done, awaiting appeal of the Ninth Circuit Court’s decision.

This is not the first time Congress has had to step forward and correct wrongheaded judicial decisions. In January 2009, the Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that agricultural pesticides should be regulated as "point source" pollution. If left unaddressed, the impact of the decision would have driven up the cost of food and hurt wheat and other farmers across the country.

The House, on a bipartisan basis, passed HR 872 in March to correct the Court's action and the Senate has moved the bill forward in committee.

What many forget is the fact that I grew up on a farm and know firsthand the tremendous stewardship shown by our farm and forest landowners. But their "work" is hard for many urbanites and academics/ideologues in the other Washington to understand. Back there, they think we're "lumberjacks" and "rednecks" who need careful watching.

In fact, it's the courts themselves that need monitoring. Too often they decide to write laws, instead of using the statutes Congress, the President and the people have enacted.

On Aug. 2, Judge James Redden of the Federal District Court in Portland, Ore. ruled that federal agencies should consider removing the dams in the Columbia River system. He rejected the salmon recovery plan developed by experts at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, public utilities, municipalities and tribes. Since dams helped build the modern Northwest economy, if Judge ReddenOs decision is carried out, its impact on our region would be disastrous.

Salmon recovery efforts are already costing consumers more than they realize.

This year, I introduced the Endangered Species Compliance and Transparency Act to shed some light on the subject. This bill would require Power Marketing Administrations, including the Bonneville Power Administration, to separate out and report the costs associated with The Endangered Species Act to each customer.

It's hard to believe, but in the Pacific Northwest, thirty percent of wholesale power rates are used to protect salmon. Consumers have a right to know how their money is being spent.

Thomas Jefferson once said that the price of freedom was eternal vigilance – and for members of Congress, it means constant vigilance over the decisions of our federal courts.

What judges frequently fail to understand is how costly regulations are to businesses and how many jobs are lost because of them. Already this year, businesses have lost more than $105 billion in lost revenue and compliance costs. Untold thousands of jobs have been lost as well.

Even when America's economy was booming, many federal environmental restrictions were counterproductive. But today, with so much economic suffering, they're absolutely devastating.

We do not need the federal courts adding to the burden already heaped onto our economy by the regulatory agencies.

Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers represents Eastern Washington's 5th District in Congress.

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