By Rebekah Rast — In June, when the U.S. Supreme Court came out with its ruling regarding the health care law, everyone sat on the edge of their seats in anticipation. And for a good reason; this law impacts every American.
Likewise, the Supreme Court is hearing the case Georgia-Pacific West v. Northwest Environmental Defense Center that will greatly impact an entire sector of businesses and jobs across the nation.
This is one of the biggest environmental cases to come before the Supreme Court in years. One that Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said has the capacity to “shut down forestry on private, state, and tribal lands.”
Since the Clean Water Act was enacted in 1972 runoff on logging roads, the point of contention in this lawsuit, is not subject to the same reviews or permitting process as factories, mines or chemical plants, because forestry falls under the section governing agriculture. At least until now.
In 2010, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that these logging roads should have to comply with the same rules as those of factories and chemical plants. The Supreme Court has taken up the case and oral arguments are expected to be heard on Dec. 3.
If the Supreme Court sides with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, the entire logging industry in these northwestern states will be brought to its knees.
Though this battle is specific towards logging road, opposition towards this industry as a whole is not new. In fact, even the federal government has taken a swing or two at the logging trade.
Some 20 years ago a 1-pound owl contributed to the demise of this very industry. The northern spotted owl was once thought to only be able to survive in old forests, overgrown and unmaintained. When it became an endangered species in 1990, and even before, great cutbacks were made in the logging industry throughout California, Oregon and Washington states. Yet, despite massive growths in forest land, the owl’s population continues to decline.
Bob Mion, communications director at California Forestry Association, said that many sawmills in Washington State were forced to shut down because of the spotted owl. Come to find out, he says, the owl thrives on managed lands, not the untouched, mismanaged federal lands. The owl’s favorite food is a wood rat, Mion claims. “If the forest is overgrown, it can’t see the rat.”
Furthermore, partly due to the Endangered Species Act (ESA) and also for regulation purposes, the federal government now owns about 1 out of every 2 acres of land in western states like Oregon, Washington, California, Nevada and Utah, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah) told Americans for Limited Government (ALG) in a previous interview.
The more land the federal government snatches up, the more rules and restrictions come down on activities like logging. The continuing heavy hand of government coupled with an ongoing recession stalling the need for new-built homes, deals a heavy blow to this industry.
To put it into perspective, in 1988, the booming timber industry in Oregon harvested 8,743 MMBF (million board feet) of wood. In 2010, the amount harvested was less than half at only 3,227 MMBF.
For comparison, in 2009, Oregon Business cited Bob Ragon, executive director of Douglas Timber Operators, as saying that over the last two decades Oregon and Washington states have lost 35,000 jobs in the timber industry.
Despite the setbacks for this industry, its future and the thousands of jobs it provides very well may hang in the balance of this pending Supreme Court decision. The Court could reverse the Ninth Circuit’s ruling and logging roads would not be subject to the Clean Water Act. Or the Court could stand behind the Ninth Circuit’s decision.
If the latter takes place, all logging roads nationwide would require permits for each drainage point.
“Washington State, for example, has 57,000 miles of them [logging roads], with at least one drain point per mile. But now the Circuit Court panel has decreed that each flow-way must be permitted or shut down. By one estimate, processing a single Clean Water Act approval costs a state $2,800, meaning the decision could saddle Washington alone with a $159.6 million bill.”
What state can afford that high price—yet alone an already crippled industry?
Furthermore, that high price tag would only go up from there. With as many drainage points as there are on each of these miles of logging roads, some, if not all of them, would get tied up in yet another environmental lawsuit. This would not only prolong the arduous permitting process, but would cost more money.
A Court decision backing the Ninth Circuit’s ruling would not only end the logging trade on public and federal lands but also on private lands. The repercussions would spread far and wide. National Review further explains:
“Endangered, too, will be thousands of resorts, ranches, and communities scattered amid the circuit’s forestlands and dependent on the same roads loggers use. Controlling forest fires will become harder, posing even greater threats to everyone nearby as well as to firefighters. And regional sawmills, paper mills, and all who depend on western wood will suffer. By some estimates as many as a million jobs are in jeopardy.”
The question must be asked, how does this protect the environment?
Mark Pawlicki, director of corporate affairs and sustainability for Sierra Pacific Industries in California, told ALG in a past interview, “We are the only industry that helps air quality.” He goes on to say that because timber harvesters must replant much more than they remove from forests, long term studies have shown a reduction of greenhouse gases because younger trees grow faster and absorb more carbon and other gases.
If the Supreme Court rules on the side of the Ninth Circuit and logging roads are forced comply with the Clean Water Act, true environmentalism would take a backseat to permitting processes and litigation battles. Therefore, these roads and connecting waterways, which are now kept clean and healthy, would fall victim to overgrown forests, runoff and debris.
This begs the question, who are the true environmentalists: Those who care for the land and maintain it and its species, or those so hungry to destroy this one industry that any resulting environmental destruction is dismissed?
Rebekah Rast is a contributing editor to Americans for Limited Government (ALG) and NetRightDaily.com. You can follow her on twitter at @RebekahRast.