EPA Exempts Forestry Industry From Clean Water Act

Michael Johnsen

June 14, 2000

The logging and forestry industry gained a major victory when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) said it will exempt loggers, tree farmers, and other forestry operations from a proposed rule which will require non-point source polluting industries to reduce water pollution.

Forestry groups claimed that the rule would require private landowners to obtain an EPA permit to cut down or even plant trees. The expensive and time-consuming process would put some small forestry practices out of business, the groups said.

"They finally heard the loud uproar across this country ... that what they were proposing simply wouldn't work," said Chris West, vice president of the Northwest Forestry Association in Portland, Oregon. Over 30,000 postcards were mailed in from opposition groups across the nation while Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., sponsored legislation to exempt the forestry industry from the rule.

Charles Fox, assistant EPA administrator for water, disagreed with the industry claims, saying 99 percent of forestr operations would not have been affected.

"There's no question that the industry mounted an extremely aggressive and no doubt expensive campaign," said Fox. "Much of the information they put out was not entirely true, if not downright false in some cases."

The rule, with the exemption for the forestry industry, will affect farmers and other private landowners and should become final before the end of summer, said Fox. He said criticism directed at the forestry portion of the rule could have held up or delayed the rest of the rule which is designed to clean up the nation's waterways. EPA estimates more than 20,000 streams and lakes, or 40% of all surface water in the nation, fail to meet water-quality standards.

He added that the EPA will propose a rule this fall which will address water pollution problems associated with the forestry industry. That rule would have to be enacted by the next presidental administration; either George W. Bush or Al Gore.

Te proposed rule, published in August 1999, requires states to submit plans to clean up waterways that fails to meet quality standards for fishing, drinking, swimming, and other categories. States would be required to set limits on how much pollution would be allowed from non-point sources, which include farmers and parking lot owners who send polluted runoff into streams, as well as logging operations which can destroy vital salmon rivers with silt runoff.

Landowners in states failing to draft adequate water pollution prevention plans would be required to get a pollution discharge permit if the EPA found they were contributing to nearby surface water quality problems.

The rest of the rule, which for the first time attempts to regulate non-point sources of marine pollution, is in