Reps. Greg Walden (R-Ore.) and Kurt Schrader (D-Ore.) announced Wednesday a bipartisan effort to support legislation to protect forest owners from costly new federal regulations and permit requirements for forest roads.
Due to a recent court decision, the federal government may soon regulate run-off from roads in the woods the same way they regulate discharge from factories or sewage treatment plants.
Walden said that would force private and public land owners to get permits for their roads, increasing their costs for compliance and opening the door for new lawsuits.
This bipartisan "Silviculture Regulatory Consistency Act: (H.R. 2541) would maintain the status quo of how forest roads are regulated by the EPA, which is in line with the state of Oregon’s standards, the congressmen said.
A total of 42 members of the House signed a letter of support to the leadership of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, which then reviewed the bill Wednesday and approved it unanimously.
“This plan would prevent more costly and lawsuit-prone regulations from impacting forestry jobs in the Northwest by subjecting public and private forest roads and operations on those roads to costly permitting requirements," Walden said.
"Today, a bipartisan coalition in the House sent a strong message in support of advancing a permanent solution to reaffirm EPA’s decades-old standard that has worked, ensuring certainty for forest owners and managers and protecting jobs in our forests,” Walden added.
"I am very pleased the House Transportation Committee passed our broadly supported, bipartisan legislation that creates the certainty our forests and rural communities need," Schrader said.
"The timber industry and the EPA have worked together to sustainably and responsibly manage our forests for more than three decades, and this bill ensures they can continue to regulate using the state's Best Management Practices," Schrader added.
"The ability to do so is crucial to our rural economies and helps keep our forests healthy and thriving," he said. "As our economy recovers, we need to make sure we remember our rural communities that have often been hurting longer from the downturn."
In 2010, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit unexpectedly invalidated the EPA’s 35-year old rules for forest roads. The Supreme Court will review this ruling, but likely will not make its decision until next year.
The “Silviculture Regulatory Consistency Act,” if approved by the House and Senate and signed by the president, would give certainty to forest owners and managers now and in the future.
The lawmakers said their bipartisan plan would preserve EPA’s position that forest roads should not be regulated as pollution sources under the Clean Water Act and would prevent further determinations in the future by the federal government that costly permits be required for everyday activities, such as reforestation, thinning, and pest and fire control, that occur across the country on public, private, state and tribal forest roads.
Without such legislation, the congressmen said, "private and public forest owners and managers across the country will be subjected to an even greater deal of uncertainty about whether they will be sued, forced to stop activities on their lands, or required to obtain complex federal discharge permits. "