The U.S. Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that logging companies need not get special permits from the federal government for runoff from logging roads. It rejected the Northwest Environmental Defense Center’s argument that use of logging roads is tantamount to the sort of industrial activity envisioned in the Clean Water Act.
That’s good news for what remains of Oregon’s timber industry.
The cases go back to 2006 and allege that Georgia Pacific and the Oregon Department of Forestry had illegally sent stormwater into a pair of rivers on the Tillamook State Forest because GP had failed to get National Pollutant Discharge Elimination Permits required under the Clean Water Act. Three days before the Supreme Court heard arguments last fall, the EPA adopted a rewritten permit rule that made clear that GP was right not to seek a permit in the first place.
A main question is whether logging, by itself, is an “industry” by EPA definition. The defense center argued it is. The court, however, agreed with the EPA, which says its regulations, by implication at least, “require more fixed and permanent outdoor timber-harvesting operations.” Logging, in the EPA’s view, is akin to farming.
The court said something else, as well. Justice Anthony Kennedy, who wrote the 7-1 majority opinion, said Oregon “... has made an extensive effort to develop a comprehensive set of best practices to manage stormwater runoff ... . In addition, the development, siting, maintenance, and regulation of roads and in particular of state forest roads — are areas in which Oregon has considerable expertise.”
The EPA’s position — that logging is, ultimately, more closely related to farming than it is to car manufacturing — makes sense. It’s a logic the court clearly agrees with.