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I am sure you’ll soon hear some debate about the pending Supreme Court hearing of a 9th Circuit (yes THAT 9th circuit) decision to consider rainwater runoff from forest service roads a pollutant to be regulated under the Clean Water Act and not by the states. Look, I do not want to get into whether this is a good idea or not. But one thing that is clear is that if the 9th circuit’s decision is upheld it is going to be a heck of a lot more costly for the forest service to manage forestlands for timber harvesting.

Now, that may be a good thing from a particular environmental perspective – by raising the regulatory costs of building forest roads to access lots and lots of trees it may make timber harvesting less profitable. (kudos to students who look up to see how profitable it really is anyway – you’ll be floored to find out that the forest service has managed to lose money on timber sales in the past). Sure. But remember that the Forest Service serves many masters. And even if this ruling ends up cleaning up fishing streams a little bit by limiting rainwater runoff, it is very possible that the environment will suffer. Why? Maybe forest managers will allow more oil and gas exploration on these lands now that timber harvesting is off limits? Why wouldn’t they? It very likely requires fewer roads to do this, and the potential revenues would seem to be larger.

I’ve followed this story for a little while and I am not sure I am right about these possible consequences. In fact, I am quite sure I am not right. But what I am quite certain of is that there will be some consequence of this ruling beyond the employment damage and timber industry damage – and I’ve not seen a single proponent of the restrictions come out and recognize that we want to be careful what we wish for. Is it too much to ask for these days? Or do we just have to parade around in the emperor’s clothes of certainty all day long?

One Response to “Forest for the Trees”

  1. Rod says:

    If you think it will be expensive to comply with the new standards for forest road runoff, wait until the EPA forces all of the states to control what’s called “municipal runoff” — the runoff that is now routed into storm sewers, swales and other waterways. Here in PA, municipalities and, of course, developers are going to be required to keep all stormwater runoff on one’s own property and to keep it from flowing downstream and into the ocean. King Canute thought this one up.

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