Supreme Court Will Decide If Logging Road Runoff is Pollution

Jun 26, 2012

The US Supreme Court will hear an appeal in a case that asks if sediment running off logging roads is industrial pollution. 

It’s starting to rain on a recent afternoon in the Tillamook State Forest. Muddy water is collecting in ditches alongside a logging road. Muddy water may not sound like a big deal.

“But it’s one of the most pervasive pollution sources," says Chris Winter, with the Crag Law Center. Winter finds a culvert that is diverting the runoff from this road into the nearby Trask River.

He says the sediment in the runoff can be disastrous for salmon.

“It clogs their gills, it covers up their eggs. And so sediment is a really major cause of the decline of salmon across the West," winter says. 

The Crag Law Center is part of suit over logging road pollution that has worked its way up to the U.S. Supreme Court. Environmental groups argue that logging outfits are required by the Clean Water Act to get permits if they discharge muddy water into streams.

The State of Oregon, and the timber industry, say issuing permits for so many roads isn’t practical, and isn’t required by law.

A logging truck rolls down the road. The driver doesn’t want to give his name. But he’s heard about the court case.

“All they’re trying to do is make a mountain out of a molehill,” he says. 

The driver says he’s already required to take precautions to protect water quality.

“If it’s rained real hard and there’s a muddy issue, they’ll shut the landings down. They’ll keep the trucks off the road.”

It will be up to the Supreme Court to decide if this system works, or if culverts carrying runoff from logging roads should be regulated.