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Courts agree additional federal regulation of forest roads not required

Courts agree additional federal regulation of forest roads not required

A federal judge’s ruling on Friday aligned with an earlier U.S. Supreme Court ruling that federal permits are not necessary in addition to the system Oregon uses to protect streams from storm runoff from roads in forests.

“We are pleased that the U.S. Supreme Court and now the U.S. District Court have ruled that additional federal regulation is not required on top of Oregon’s existing forest protection regulations,” State Forester Doug Decker said. “We intend to continue to apply the Forest Practices Act’s science-based approaches, and we hope to re-dedicate the energy and resources spent on litigation to protecting and improving streams and other forest resources.”

Although the Supreme Court had already ruled more than a year ago against the Northwest Environmental Defense Center, the plaintiffs were given an opportunity to seek to add new claims to their complaint in U.S. District Court. District Judge Anna J. Brown dismissed the case on Friday. Previously, she had ruled that she lacked jurisdiction to consider the new claims, and that it would be “fundamentally unfair to require Defendants to defend against a new theory eight years after the case was initiated.”

In the case, the plaintiffs argued that federal permits should be required for storm runoff into streams from forest roads, in addition to the state’s own road drainage regulations. In March 2013, the Supreme Court rejected that argument, agreeing with the state and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) that EPA rules did not require such permits.

The Supreme Court looked favorably on Oregon’s system, noting that the state had developed considerable expertise in regulating forest roads, and had created a comprehensive set of best practices for managing stormwater runoff from these roads.

The Court noted Oregon’s “considerable expertise” in regulating forest roads, and ruled that EPA could reasonably conclude that “further federal regulation in this area would be duplicative or counterproductive.” The Court also noted that Congress directed the EPA to work with states “to alleviate stormwater pollution by developing the precise kind of best management practices Oregon has established here.”

The Oregon Forest Practices Act protects natural resources during timber harvest and other forest operations. It was the first law of its kind in the U.S. when passed in 1971, and has been amended many times as scientific understanding of resource protection has evolved.

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