WASHINGTON (February 13, 2002) -- For years timber companies in Alaska have dumped logging debris into waterways, but that practice is no longer permitted thanks to a court victory for NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council). The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals today invalidated Environmental Protection Agency Clean Water Act permits authorizing timber companies to discharge large amounts of bark into the state's coastal waters.
"For too long timber companies have treated Alaskan waters as a waste dump at the expense of marine life and the people who rely on clean water for fishing and recreation," said Sharon Buccino, an NRDC senior attorney. "Today's court ruling means that EPA no longer will be able to let the timber industry monopolize Alaska's coastal waters for its own profit."
NRDC filed a lawsuit against EPA in July 2000 over permits that took effect the previous March. Those permits allowed timber companies to use bays and estuaries throughout Southeast Alaska, including those in and around the Tongass National Forest, to store downed logs before transferring them to barges for export or mills for processing.
For generations, Native Americans and other Alaska residents have relied on these same waters for subsistence fishing and gathering, commercial fishing, recreation and eco-tourism. The accumulation of bark at these dump sites often covers several acres. The bark persists on the ocean floor for decades, smothering and killing marine life.
Today the court remanded the permits to EPA, making the permits invalid and sending them back to the agency for further action. This decision means the unlimited discharge of bark and other logging debris no longer will be allowed. Even before the agency issued the challenged general permits providing blanket authorization for all log dumps, many timber companies were operating with outdated individual permits in violation of the Clean Water Act. When the agency offers a new proposal for the permits, the public must be notified and given the opportunity to comment.
A number of Alaska-based organizations joined NRDC's suit, including the Hoonah Indian Association, the Organized Village of Kake, the Alaska Wilderness Recreation and Tourism Association, and the Southeast Alaska Conservation Council.
"NRDC sued to prevent EPA from granting blanket approval for the unlimited discharge of bark into Alaskan waters, and to preserve the public's right to participate in permitting decisions for log dumps. We achieved both of these results," added Buccino.
A copy of the opinion is available at the Court of Appeals website.
The Natural Resources Defense Council is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.