Seven-year court fight over forest practices ends in 7-1 U.S. Supreme Court victory
The U.S. Supreme Court ruled in a 7-1 vote Wednesday in support of Oregon’s current rules governing stormwater discharges in timberlands, an important affirmation of Oregon’s forest management practices.
The Supreme Court decision reverses a decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, which held that water runoff in the Tillamook State Forest amounted to “discharges associated with industrial activity.” If that ruling had stood, it could have radically changed rules governing storm runoff 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. Arguments took place in December.
The Supreme Court noted that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency doesn’t require stormwater discharges for water runoff from logging roads nor is the agency requesting such authority to regulate water runoff. “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 stormwater runoff from logging roads. These practices include rules mandating filtration of stormwater runoff before it enters rivers and streams.” The court noted that Congress has directed the Environmental Protection Agency to work with other states “to alleviate stormwater 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 runoff.
The Northwest Environmental Defense Center sued the state forester and several timber companies in the litigation.
Lawyers for the Oregon Justice Department represented the Forestry Department 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, Senior Assistant Attorney General, for their work.