EPA announces decision to not regulate forest road discharges under the Clean Water Act

On July 5, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) announced the agency’s decision that no additional regulations are needed to address stormwater discharges from forest roads under Section 402(p)(6) of the Clean Water Act at this time (81 Federal Register 43492).

The decision responds to a remand by the U.S. Court of Appeals in the Ninth Circuit in Environmental Defense Center, Inc. v. U.S. EPA, 344 F.2d 832 (9th Cir. 2003) that required EPA to consider whether the Clean Water Act requires the Agency to regulate stormwater discharges from forest roads.

In the announcement, the EPA recognizes that the “scientific literature increasingly demonstrates the effectiveness of [best management practices] in preventing, minimizing, and mitigating discharges affecting water quality and aquatic habitat.” (81 FR 43496). The agency also notes that a broad array of programs based on best management practices (BMPs), including state and federal programs and private third-party certification programs, has been established to address forest roads in every state with significant forestry operations in the country.

Further, the agency acknowledges that BMP implementation rates are high with BMP implementation surveys in 32 states (i.e., those with significant forest management activity) between 2005 and 2013 “showing an average forestry BMP implementation rate of 91%” (81 FR 43498).

In explaining the rationale for its decision, the EPA states that “many rigorous programs exist at every level of government as well as in the private sector to address stormwater discharges from forest roads in the United States. The programs are regularly updated to reflect new technology and research findings, are specifically tailored for the locations in which they are implemented, and have high implementation rates. While these programs have limitations and may vary in their effectiveness, EPA has concluded that providing support for further improvement to these programs will be more effective in further addressing discharges from forest roads than would the establishment of a new federal regulatory program under CWA Section 402(p)(6).”

NCASI provided extensive technical comments to the EPA in response to its 2015 solicitation of public input and information on existing public and private sector programs that address stormwater discharges from forest roads. (80 FR 69653).


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