Logging faces new pollution controls

  A recent federal court ruling and a new California law could both curtail stream pollution by the timber industry.

On Oct. 12, outgoing Gov. Gray Davis signed a bill that allows regional water quality boards to veto logging plans if they would damage streams classified by the federal Environmental Protection Agency as "impaired due to sediment." Pat Veesart of the Sierra Club says the change is "very significant." In the past, he says, an industry-friendly California Department of Forestry approved logging that dumped sediment into already-polluted streams.

Then, on Oct. 14, U.S. District Court Judge Marilyn Hall Patel ruled that logging-caused runoff should not be exempt from the Clean Water Act. EPA policy previously designated "natural runoff" from many logging operations as a "non-point source" discharge that does not require a permit, even though sediment pollution from logging enters streams through ditches, gullies and roadways considered "point sources" in other industries.

Earthjustice lawyer Mike Lozeau says the EPA was, "in fact, saying, ‘Although it looks like a point source and smells like a point source, we’re going to make believe it’s not a point source.’"

But Jim Branham of Pacific Lumber Company, a co-defendant with EPA in the lawsuit, maintains that logging runoff is different than "a pipe flowing out of a factory." Branham, whom Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has since appointed undersecretary of the state EPA, says his company is still deciding whether to appeal the ruling.

The EPA is also considering an appeal.
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