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Boaters want to jettison EPA permit plan | TribLIVE.com
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Boaters want to jettison EPA permit plan

Tribune-Review
| Monday, April 7, 2008 12:00 a.m

Pitch it off the stern and let it sink.

That’s how a number of recreational boaters feel about a permit process the federal Environmental Protection Agency plans to implement by Sept. 30 for every boat on the water.

“As far as I’m concerned, any other tax or licensing on recreational boaters is absurd,” said Mike Ferris of Gilpin, president of the River Navigation Coalition and member of several other boater associations.

Ferris, who owns a 44-foot cruiser, said the EPA permit process amounts to another layer of bureaucracy that could kill recreational boating.

“It’s all craziness,” Ferris said. “I think the restrictions already on recreational boating and the cost of recreational boating is getting out of hand.”

Scott Croft, spokesman for national boater association BoatU.S., agreed. “We have an issue with anything else that makes it a hassle to go boating,” he said.

EPA officials say they have not worked out details of the permit process.

BoatU.S. says questions yet to be resolved include what the permits will cost, how boaters can obtain them and what penalties the EPA will impose on boaters without a permit.

“The juicy details have not been released yet,” Croft said. “We all know that permits are going to be required, but how the process will be implemented, we don’t know.”

BoatU.S. is rounding up support among recreational boaters for legislation to exempt recreational boats from the EPA permit. The proposal, called the Clean Boating Act of 2008, is sponsored by Sens. Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Bill Nelson, D-Fla.

“We don’t believe that a recreational boater who wants to go bass fishing needs an EPA permit,” said Meredith McFadden, a spokeswoman for Nelson.

Environmental concerns

The permit plan evolved after several environmental groups, primarily on the West Coast, sued the EPA in 1999 in an effort to control the spread of invasive water species such as the zebra mussel by requiring the treatment of ballast water in ocean-going ships.

Ships carry ballast water to stay balanced, often taking it on in one location and dumping it at another. The process contributes to the spread of the invasive species.

In 2006, U.S. District Court for Northern California ordered the EPA to develop a permit system that regulates discharge for all boats — even recreational ones that do not carry ballast water.

For more than 30 years, the EPA exempted recreational boats from any permit required by the federal Clean Water Act.

“Recreational boats actually do have a big impact on the environment,” said Nina Bell, executive director of Northwest Environmental Advocates, the primary plaintiff in the case against the EPA.

Smaller boats produce discharge such as deck run-off, bilge water and engine cooling water. Bell said the discharge contains pollutants such as oil and that recreational boats often discharge sewage.

“Obviously, boats of different sizes can have different impacts on the environment,” Bell said. “It’s the accumulation of a lot of recreational vessels all having a little impact that’s of concern.”

Boaters argue that normal discharge from recreational boats doesn’t hurt the environment.

Croft and other BoatU.S. officials said they don’t want to relax any environmental standards. They argue that the Clean Boating Act of 2008 isn’t meant to weaken environmental laws.

“We are not going back on environmental restrictions on boats,” said Margaret Podlich, vice president of government affairs for BoatU.S. “We have existing federal restrictions on overboard discharge such as trash, sewage and oil. We do not want to go backward on those.”

Financial stress

Boaters worry that each EPA permit will cost several hundred dollars.

Bell and Northwest Environmental Advocates said the permits do not have to become a nightmare for recreational boaters.

Bell said the EPA could explore several options with little to no aggravation or additional cost for boaters. For example, he said, the EPA could allow boaters to obtain their EPA permit when they register with the state.

Bell said the EPA has appealed the lower court ruling. He expects a ruling soon.

As for the Clean Boating Act, Bell said her organization sees it as a “fig leaf.”

“It appears to create some requirements for recreational vessels to control pollution discharges,” she said, “but in all likelihood, it will have little to no impact on environmental protection.”

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