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.