U.S. Supreme Court hears forest roads case

This week the U.S. Supreme Court heard arguments on whether to switch gears on more than 30 years of regulating the muddy water running off logging roads into rivers. To add to an already complex situation, the Environmental Protection Agency issued a new regulation last Friday clarifying a provision of the Clean Water Act. The point of clarification involves ditches and culverts that drain runoff from logging roads.

Much of the argument on Monday was devoted to the consequences of the new environmental regulation for the two consolidated cases before the justices. The cases arose from suits against logging companies and Oregon forestry officials under the Clean Water Act, saying the defendants were required to obtain permits for runoff from logging roads that ran through ditches and culverts.

The E.P.A. has long taken the opposite view, and the ultimate answer to whether the Clean Water Act applies to hundreds of thousands of miles of logging roads is quite consequential, as it could provide a tool for conservationists to block logging where silty runoff would choke forest streams.

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