Farm Bill Rider Amends Clean Water Act in Giveaway to Timber Industry

What follows is a press release from WildEarth Guardians:

Seattle, WA (January 28, 2014) – The House and Senate agreed today to reduce oversight for our Nation’s clean water. Under the guise of protecting the timber industry, Congress included a rider in the compromise Farm Bill that significantly weakens the Clean Water Act by exempting certain silvicultural activities from permitting under the Act’s National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System. The Clean Water Act has been incredibly successful in cleaning up polluted water in the United States. As a victim of its own success, it is now under regular attack in Congress by democrats and republicans alike. This controversial amendment was unlikely to succeed had Congress used normal legislative channels for making this change. Instead, they attached this unnecessary legislation as a rider to the Farm Bill, short-circuiting the regular legislative process.

“Congress has decided to protect the timber industry instead of protecting America’s drinking water. This new provision allows the timber industry to continue to pollute our nation’s drinking water with sediment,” said Bethanie Walder, Public Lands Director for WildEarth Guardians.

The Forest Service estimates that well over 50% of the American public lives in communities that rely on public and private forest lands for their drinking water supplies. Numerous studies have identified forest roads as the principal source of accelerated erosion in forests throughout the western United States. With so much of the Nation’s drinking water impacted or potentially impacted by sediment pollution from logging roads, the Clean Water Act provides an important regulatory backstop.

“This fundamental change to the Clean Water Act undermines our Nation’s clean water and was unnecessary. It will tie the EPA’s hands. Now, even where logging roads are causing significant water quality problems, citizens and the EPA will not be able to ensure that landowners address those impacts,” said Paul Kampmeier, Staff Attorney at the Washington Forest Law Center.

Oregon Senator Ron Wyden and Congressman Kurt Schrader were key spokespeople promoting the rider. Oregon has 70,000 miles of roads on Forest Service lands; Washington has 22,000 miles. Together the two states account for nearly 25% of the entire Forest Service road system. A recent study from the Forest Service found that 78% of all Forest Service watersheds in Washington and Oregon are being negatively affected by roads. “We are extremely disappointed that some members of the Oregon delegation not only supported but championed this effort to diminish Clean Water Act protections. With so many Oregonians dependent on forests for our drinking water, and so many roads bleeding sediment into our streams, our delegation should be putting the people’s need for clean water above corporate profits,” said Chris Winter, Co-Executive Director of the Crag Law Center.

“This rider is a giveaway to the timber industry that threatens our drinking water and fisheries. But reducing regulation of logging roads under the Clean Water Act doesn’t change the fact that logging roads remain a primary cause of sediment pollution,” added Bethanie Walder.

The Farm Bill has not been finalized by Congress yet, but votes in the House and Senate are expected imminently now that the compromise has been finalized and introduced. Assuming the bill passes, this rider to amend the Clean Water Act will become law.

13 Comments

  1. “…logging roads are causing significant water quality problems…”
    “…so many roads bleeding sediment into our streams…”

    Seems like a bit of an overdramatization to me, but I get it…it’s a press release. Gotta get the point across. Yes, roads cause sediment but its been fairly well documented that something like 98% of the sediment is coming from 2% of the roads/road segments, or something like that. Federal oversight/regulation of the entire system seems oppressive to me, and apparently some members of Congress as well. It would seem like there are better and more efficient remedies to the problem, given its extent.

    Regardless, I would think that conservation groups would be more concerned with the provisions in the draft bill that would allow for 3000 acre non-appealable CEs to thwart insect and disease issues, particularly since identification of treatment areas could be identified as “at risk of experiencing substantially increased tree mortality over the next 15 years due to insect or disease infestation, based on the most recent National Insect and Disease Risk Map published by the Forest Service”

    Here’s the map…looks like a lot of ground to choose from: (large file)
    http://www.fs.fed.us/foresthealth/technology/pdfs/2012_RiskMap_Report_web.pdf

  2. Matthew, I couldn’t read past the first paragraph. You and I know that the Farm Bill provision changes nothing from the current practice. The silvicultural activities have long been exempt by rule, but now they are exempt by law.

    • It may not change current practice, but it does change current law, at least as interpreted in one very important jurisdiction (the most important, timber-wise, I would suggest). Or, some might say it clarifies the CWA in a manner that’s favorable to the timber industry and no longer open to other interpretation. Either way, that is certainly significant.

  3. Many “radical” environmentalists would love to see forest management on private lands grind to a complete halt as they have been able to accomplish on Federal lands. Using the Clean Water Act in this manner was just such a ploy to do so.
    Thankfully, these senators realized the potential impact to all forest management and pushed this legisltion through. I applaud the bi-partisan effort to overcome this blatant effort to kill the forest products industry in the US.

  4. This is from Gil..who has had two problems commenting. His comment goes away but if he tries to do it again, it says it’s already been added. Does anyone else have this problem?

    Anyway, here’s his comment:

    As stated by others above, this Farm Bill Rider will have no impact on how certain silvicultural activities are treated by the CWA. However, it does change two things in regard to those opposed to sound forest management – If this rider and the farm bill are approved:

    1) It puts a stop to the legal efforts of those opposing sound forestry to make an end run around the CWA. The facts are exactly the opposite of what Matthew is reporting from the WildEarth Guardians. This falsehood was totally debunked in a post from several months ago at http://forestpolicypub.com/2013/10/10/tmdl-too-many-damn-lawyers/comment-page-1/#comment-20697 . HISTORY: The CWA specifically excluded non-point sources from federal permitting requirements and gave the EPA the exclusive right to define what was point versus non-point sources.

    2) The classification of certain silvicultural activities can not be reclassified from non-point to point sources by the EPA or any court, which in turn removes these activities from ever requiring permitting at the federal level other than by a change in the law itself.

    By means of this rider, Congress simply backed up what they had already stated in the CWA and did it in such a way as to cut out the ability of those opposing sound forestry to circumvent the CWA and to circumvent the intent of congress when they passed the CWA.

    For details on the rider, please see: http://www.stateforesters.org/coalition-letter-stabenowcochranlucaspeterson-support-silvicultural-activities-legislation-federal “State BMPs for forestry are highly effective at maintaining water quality. Forestry experts, including the Chief of the U.S. Forest Service, agree that point source regulations and permits will not improve water quality beyond the effectiveness of BMPs.”

    • Yes, Larry, it’s been a pretty endless array of ‘give-aways” to the timber industry from the US Congress over the past 15 years. Any analysis would clearly show this. * smirk * Congress has done everything in its power to make it easier to log our national forests with less environmental analysis, less public oversight and less attention paid to T & E species I’m not sure how anyone could claim the opposite in this regard. * smirk *

      In my view the main factors preventing all these legislative and administrative ‘give-aways” from having as big of an impact as it could is 1) the lack of funding Congress gives to the USFS and 2) the lack of demand for wood/lumber/paper as a result of global economic forces.

      • I’d somewhat agree with your first point (lack of funding for management) though there seems to be an endless flow of money to fight fires……..
        I’d disagree with your second point (lack of global demand). It’s just the opposite. Global demand for wood products is at an all time high and rising. I’d refer you to China, as one example, which in recent years has had a huge impact on log, lumber and wood fibre consumption throughout the globe. India is also becoming a developing market for wood along with recovering economies in the US, Europe and Japan.

  5. Logging itself often generates far less sediment directly to streams than some might assume if BMPs are used. And it is true that the vast portion of sediment comes from a very small part of the road system. And I might say that new federal roads over last few decades produce even less. Credit needs to be given to them for vast improvements, necessary but sometimes expensive,

    But road sediment is a problem and the largest source in many areas. The problem as I see it is that it is often from old roads that have bled sediment for decades. Old ditches, etc, you have seen them too, still gullying out since the 50s.

    Current road building practices on private lands have improved-to some extent-but since I have seen few recently built private roads in the PNW, I can;t really judge them.

    What is the actual information on that? I know that they are not as cautious as the feds but I know little more than that. If not graveled heavily enough, just driving on mud roads can generate lots of sediment. But the feds sure lay the gravel down in Oregon.

  6. The Feds in many cases overbuild their roads to a standard (many designed by the Federal Highway Administration) that makes little economic sense given the amount of traffic they will endure.
    Industry (and States) build to a lower standard, but with higher traffic flows (mainly heavy trucks) as part of the calculus. As mentioned, following BMP’s consistently will eliminate much of the sediment that potentially can occur.
    I would speculate that the majority of the sediment does not come from actively managed roads, but from poorly maintained or abandoned roads which were built back in the 60’s and 70’s (or older). Much of the Forest Service in the West has a huge backlog of under-maintained or “orphaned” roads which are sorely in need of repair or abandonment. This is another casualty of the “no management or minimal management” option which the Forest Service has been forced to accept. Limited budgets with priorities given to “habitat restoration”, EIS studies and production and over half (or more in some cases) spent on fighting fires leaves little for regular annual maintenance, not to mention cleaning up a large backlog of needed reforestation as well.
    Under Certification programs such as SFI and FSC, this issue must be addressed as part of the certification standard. Most industrial timberlands and State lands now are managed under one of these certification standards. Unfortunately, the USFS has not shown much interest in certification. I believe his would alleviate much of the issue with sediment.

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