FORESTS:

9th Circuit declines to rehear logging-road runoff case

A federal appeals court said today it won't reconsider its decision last year that requires Clean Water Act permitting for stormwater runoff on logging roads.

The San Francisco-based 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruling applies to the nine Western states within the court's jurisdiction, including the Pacific Northwest.

A three-judge panel originally ruled last summer that logging road operators -- which includes timber companies and local government entities -- should be required to apply to U.S. EPA for permits under the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) (Greenwire, Aug. 18, 2010).

Earlier today, the 9th Circuit issued an amended version of that ruling. The court noted that the panel will not rehear the case and that none of the other judges on the court had requested for a rehearing en banc.

The Northwest Environmental Defense Center initially filed suit over two logging roads in Oregon's Tillamook State Forest.

A series of ditches, culverts and channels collects and discharges runoff that eventually drain into nearby rivers. The sediment "adversely affects fish ... by smothering eggs, reducing oxygen levels, interfering with feeding, and burying insects that provide food," Judge William Fletcher wrote in the opinion.

Timber industry lawyer Per Ramfjord, a Portland, Ore.-based partner at the Stoel Rives law firm, said it had not yet been decided whether to file a petition with the Supreme Court.

The ruling "imposes potentially significant burdens" on an industry that is already suffering due to the economic downturn, he added.

The environmental group's attorney, Paul Kampmeier of the Washington Forest Law Center, said the decision was "great news for our wild fish populations."

Click here to read the amended opinion.

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