Court decision threatens Eastern Washington's economy

At a time of so mucheconomic suffering, a flawed decision by the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals isthreatening to add further harm to Eastern Washington’s economy, specificallyour forest industries.  The Court’sdecision that forest stormwater runoff produced during logging must beregulated by the federal Clean Water Act (CWA) rather than by state forestrylaws overturn 35 years of federal environmental policy. 
If upheld, it will severely crippleone of Eastern Washington’s most important industries and cause the needlessloss of thousands of jobs in our region. I can’t emphasize enough theimplications to the area if left unaddressed and the need for bipartisansupport to reverse this decision.
It’s important: Half of Washington isforested, with nine million acres managed by state and private landowners. Theforest industry supports more than 130,000 jobs statewide, many of which are inrural communities with high unemployment rates. 
Today, forest runoff produced by harvesting is regulatedunder the CWA as a “nonpoint source of pollution,” a policy the EnvironmentalProtection Agency (EPA) has followed for the past 25 years. Under this policy,each state is empowered to draft its own rules to ensure compliance. 
The Northwest Environmental DefenseCenter (NEDC), however, felt this policy was insufficient and sued to havelogging listed as an industry that needs “point-source” permits. That is, eachlogging site would be regulated as if it were a permanent industrialfacility. 
Because the NinthCircuit ruled in the NEDC’s favor, it means that landowners would need to get aseparate federal permit for every culvert and bridge under their roads and anappeal of any one permit could bring logging to a standstill.  Thousands of small forest landowners inEastern Washington, already struggling, could be forced out of business.
Toprevent this devastating decision from going forward, I have worked with Rep.Jaime Herrera Beutler (R-WA), who represents the timber communities ofSouthwest Washington, to introduce H.R. 2541, the Silviculture RegulatoryConsistency Act. This legislation — cosponsored by Republicans and Democrats– will restore the federal government’s previous policy under CWA and protectjobs. 
House Republicans arepushing forward forcibly to see the law enacted.  We’ve already added the bill, in the form of an amendment, to the2012 Interior appropriations bill Ð giving us another vehicle to get the lawover to the Senate for their consideration.
As a member of the Houseleadership team, I am confident that we’ll see progress on the legislation. Inthe meantime, the EPA and Forest Service are continuing to regulate waterrunoff as they have always done, awaiting appeal of the Ninth Circuit Court’sdecision.
This is not the first time Congress has had to step forward andcorrect wrongheaded judicial decisions. In January 2009, the Sixth CircuitCourt of Appeals ruled that agricultural pesticides should be regulated as”point source” pollution. If left unaddressed, the impact of the decision wouldhave driven up the cost of food and hurt wheat and other farmers across thecountry.
The House, on a bipartisan basis, passed HR 872 in March tocorrect the Court’s action and the Senate has moved the bill forward incommittee.
What many forget is the fact that I grew up on a farm and knowfirsthand the tremendous stewardship shown by our farm and forest landowners.But their “work” is hard for many urbanites and academics/ideologues in theother Washington to understand. Back there, they think we’re “lumberjacks” and”rednecks” who need careful watching.
In fact, it’s the courts themselvesthat need monitoring. Too often they decide to write laws, instead of using thestatutes Congress, the President and the people have enacted.
On August 2,Judge James Redden of the Federal District Court in Portland, Oregon ruled thatfederal agencies should consider removing the dams in the Columbia Riversystem. He rejected the salmon recovery plan developed by experts at theNational Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, public utilities,municipalities and tribes. Since dams helped build the modern Northwesteconomy, if Judge Redden’s decision is carried out, its impact on our regionwould be disastrous.
Salmon recovery efforts are already costing consumersmore than they realize.
           This year, I introduced the Endangered Species Compliance andTransparency Act to shed some light on the subject. This bill would requirePower Marketing Administrations, including the Bonneville Power Administration,to separate out and report the costs associated with The Endangered Species Actto each customer.
It’s hard to believe, but in the Pacific Northwest,thirty percent of wholesale power rates are used to protected salmon. Consumershave a right to know how their money is being spent.
Thomas Jefferson oncesaid that the price of freedom was eternal vigilance Ð and for members ofCongress, it means constant vigilance over the decisions of our federalcourts.
What judges frequently fail to understand is how costlyregulations are to businesses and how many jobs are lost because of them.  Already this year, businesses have lost morethan $105 billion in lost revenue and compliance costs.  Untold thousands of jobs have been lost aswell.
Even when America’s economy was booming, many federal environmentalrestrictions were counterproductive. But today, with so much economic suffering, they’re absolutelydevastating.
We do not need the federal courts adding to the burdenalready heaped onto our economy by the regulatory agencies.

Rep.Cathy McMorris Rodgers represents Eastern Washington in Congress.