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U.S. Supreme Court upholds Oregon regulations on forest roads
News Release
Distribution:  Major Media
March 20, 2013
Contact:  Dan Postrel, 503-945-7420
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 7-1 vote Wednesday, March 20, in support of Oregon’s current rules governing storm water discharges from forest roads, an important affirmation of Oregon’s forest management practices.
The Supreme Court reversed a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which held that water run-off in the Tillamook State Forest amounted to “discharges associated with industrial activity.” If that ruling had stood, it could have radically changed the rules governing storm run-off from forest roads. Forest landowners would have been forced into a federal permitting process for rainwater running off such roads.
Timber companies and the State of Oregon appealed the Ninth Circuit ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. Oral arguments took place in December 2012.
The Supreme Court noted that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency does not require discharge permits for storm water run-off from logging roads, nor is the agency requesting such authority to regulate water run-off. “The agency could reasonably have concluded that further federal regulation in this area would be duplicative or counterproductive,” the court stated in its majority opinion.
The ruling is a vote of confidence in Oregon’s Forest Practices Act, which has governed timber harvesting operations in the state since the 1970s. The court wrote that Oregon has “made an extensive effort to develop a set of best practices to manage storm water run-off from logging roads. These practices include rules mandating filtration of storm water run-off before it enters rivers and streams.” The court noted that Congress has directed the Environmental Protection Agency to work with states “to alleviate storm water pollution by developing the precise kind of best management practices Oregon has established here.”
“Oregon appreciates the court’s recognition of our existing laws and best practices, which have evolved over several decades,” said Doug Decker, Oregon State Forester. The rules include standards for construction, maintenance, and use of roads that minimize sediment in run-off.
The Northwest Environmental Defense Center sued the state forester and several timber companies in the litigation.
Lawyers for the Oregon Justice Department represented the Oregon Department of Forestry in the case, which has been winding through the courts for seven years. Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum singled out Solicitor General Anna Joyce and Erin Lagesen, Assistant Attorney General, in particular for their work on the case.