|SAN FRANCISCO - October 15 -Late yesterday, October 14, a federal court ruled that logging companies are no different from anyone else and must abide by the Clean Water Act. The opinion by Judge Marilyn Hall Patel finds that logging companies are required to obtain permits for pollution emitted from "ditches, culverts, channels, and gullies." This is the first court ruling in the nation to apply the Clean Water Act to this type of logging pollution and gives the go-ahead for the Environmental Protection Information Center (EPIC), represented by Earthjustice, to proceed with its case against the Pacific Lumber Company for pollution in Bear Creek, a tributary of the Eel River in Humboldt County, California.
The U.S. EPA and the State Water Board have listed over 85 percent of the rivers and streams in the North Coast region, including Bear Creek and the Eel River, as "impaired" due to excessive levels of pollution caused by logging. The devastating effects of logging pollution on aquatic habitat are also the primary cause of reduced coho salmon and steelhead populations, which now require federal protection. Nevertheless, to date, little has been done by either U.S. EPA or California's North Coast Regional Water Quality Control Board to reduce or eliminate logging pollution on the
The lawsuit charges that Pacific Lumber Company is discharging massive amounts of pollution through ditches, channels, and other "point sources" without necessary pollution control permits. Under the CWA, it is illegal to discharge pollution into the waters of the United States from "discrete conveyance points" without permits.
"It's time the logging industry faced up to the fact that they are serious polluters of our nation's waters, causing massive erosion that is smothering critical fish habitat and spoiling people's water supplies - and that pollution is illegal," said Earthjustice attorney Mike Lozeau. "The Clean Water Act's pollution control requirements are one of the most successful and cost-efficient pollution control programs ever devised. Yesterday's ruling finally makes logging companies clean up their act in the woods."
Bear Creek is a tributary of the Eel River located between Humboldt Redwoods State Park and the Maxxam/Pacific Lumber's headquarter town of Scotia. It is essential habitat for protected salmon species, but the California Department of Fish and Game discovered this habitat had been "essentially erased" in the late 1990s after extensive logging was completed. Approximately 75 percent of the watershed has been logged and sprayed with herbicides in the last 15 years, and 39 miles of dirt roads now cross its eight square miles of hillsides. The lawsuit contends that investigations by Pacific Lumber's own consultants show that hundreds of Pacific Lumber drainpipes, culverts, and ditches are dumping thousands of tons of pollution from areas that were recently clearcut or otherwise logged.
"Logging companies are disregarding a law that other industries in the nation must follow. Bear Creek is a tragic example of the result," said EPIC's Cynthia Elkins. "We are hopeful that this ruling will lead to a precedent that not only protects and restores Bear Creek, but watersheds throughout the nation," she added.
EPIC was formed in 1977 and is dedicated to preserving, protecting, and restoring biodiversity, native species, watersheds, and ecosystems in northern California. EPIC is headquartered in Garberville, California. Earthjustice is a nonprofit public-interest environmental law firm based in Oakland, California. The Earthjustice Environmental Law Clinic at Stanford represents EPIC in this lawsuit.
The case number is No. C 01-2821 MHP.
Additional information and photographs of Bear Creek are available on EPIC's website at: http://www.wildcalifornia.org/projects/cleanwateract/index.html