A proposal to regulate the logging industry will clean up streams in Georgia and Florida and penalize only polluters, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says.
Wayne Haddock, the owner of a Brantley County, Ga., logging company, has a different interpretation.
"They're trying to put us out of business," Haddock said.
With only seven employees, Haddock's Logging is a relatively small operation, but his view is shared by industry giants.
The EPA may implement new rules in weeks that would require loggers to apply for permits if they're working along or near streams that are deemed overloaded with pollutants. But in this case, the pollutants are not chemicals, oil or pesticides: It is soil.
"It could be extremely detrimental to business," said Bob Izlar, director of the Center for Forest Business at the University of Georgia. "You could be shut down in a moment by a drive-by complaint."
Izlar said he has heard all of the EPA's assurances, but that California already has set the example for just how bad it can get. Because of laws passed in the 1970s, public hearings are held before all timber cutting operations there, he said.
At issue is the definition of runoff from logging operations. Now the runoff is considered non-point source pollution, an overland flow of water from diffuse sources that cannot be specifically identified.
Point source pollution comes from a specific point such as an industrial discharge pipe that empties into a river: In other words, it's an identifiable flow.
The EPA wants to redefine logging operations as point source polluters.
By doing so, loggers would then be required to regulate their discharges and have to seek permit applications, hire consultants and go through public hearings and long public comment periods.
That could be very onerous, said Frank Green, state water quality coordinator for the Georgia Forestry Commission.
The Georgia Forestry Commission already implements something called best management practices, a list of logging procedures that protect waterways from muddy runoff. They have worked very well, so well that timber companies are only minor contributors to the pollution of Georgia streams, Green said.
"This isn't about clean water," Green said of the proposed regulations. "This is about giving the Sierra Club and everybody else the chance to comment on timber operations."
Haddock says his three employees who work in the woods adhere to those practices. They don't cut anything within 100 feet of running streams, and they stay 50 feet away from anything they perceive to be wetlands, he said. If a low area looks like it could serve as drainage during rainy periods, the loggers make sure they don't drop trees into it or do anything else that would stop the flow, Haddock said.
Robert Nelson has worked in logging for 12 years, three of them for Haddock.
Because he stays in the woods all day, Nelson said he knows little about the proposed regulations, but he has heard enough to be concerned.
"I hope I don't have to worry about my job," he said.
AT WHOSE EXPENSE?
So how much woodlands would be affected?
Florida has 14.7 million acres of woodlands, 49 percent of which is privately owned. Georgia has 24 million acres of trees, 72 percent of which is privately owned.
Chris Barneycastle, executive director of the Georgia Forestry Association, said the private landowners worry him most.
"The portion of the industry this will hit hardest is the small private, non-industrial owner," Barneycastle said. Some estimates say it will take at least 84 working hours to complete the permitting process and, if owners have to hire foresters and wildlife biologists to complete the paperwork, up to $10,000 to secure a permit.
Some will cut their timber once, and if the permit process is too troublesome, take the land out of tree production and perhaps sell it to developers, Barneycastle said. …