Congress passes Clean Boating Act

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Boating advocates of all stripes are hailing Tuesday’s passage of the Clean Boating Act of 2008, H.R. 5949/S. 2766, in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives.

The Clean Boating Act of 2008 — a top legislative priority for more than 60 partners in the Boat Blue Coalition — will permanently restore a long-standing exemption for recreational boats from permitting requirements under the Clean Water Act, which are designed for land-based industrial facilities and oceangoing commercial ships.

While the legislation still needs President George W. Bush’s signature to become law, everyone from manufacturers to boat owner groups is breathing a collective sigh of relief over what they say is an “historic victory” for recreational boating. And they credit grassroots action and bipartisan support in Congress for this crucial win.

“This is a fabulous victory for common sense and it just goes to show what can be done when the boating public, the marine industry and its representatives in Congress row together in a bipartisan way,” said Nancy Michelman, president of the Boat Owners Association of the United States, in a statement.

BoatU.S. government affairs director Margaret Podlich noted the tens of thousands of letters and e-mails generated by boaters and anglers over the last year. She also praised the “boatload of legislators” who did much of the heavy lifting to get this legislation passed.

A complete list of all legislators involved will soon be available at www.BoatUS.com/gov.

National Marine Manufacturers Association officials also were grateful for the congressional support.

“The Senate and House have acted swiftly, and we appreciate the bipartisan nature of their action to protect the recreational marine industry, the American boating public and our natural resources,” said Scott Gudes, NMMA vice president of government relations, in a statement. “This is an historic victory for our 1,700 members and for boaters across the nation who just love being out on the water unencumbered by unnecessary government red tape and significant legal jeopardy.

“Congress has acted decisively to keep boating fun, safe and simple,” Gudes added.

Congressional action was spawned by a U.S. district court decision in September 2006 under which an estimated 17 million recreational boats would have fallen under Clean Water Act permit requirements effective Sept. 30, 2008. The permit would have dictated maintenance and operation procedures and potentially subjected boaters to citizen lawsuits as well as a penalty system designed for industrial polluters.

At the same time it passed the Clean Boating Act, Congress also passed H.R. 6556/S. 3278, legislation to provide a moratorium on permitting for commercial vessel discharges until the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency completes a review of certain incidental discharges.

NMMA says this legislation was the product of extensive negotiations between Sens. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska; Barbara Boxer. D-Calif.; Bill Nelson, D-Fla.; and Patty Murray, D-Wash., as well as Reps. James Oberstar, D-Minn.; Gene Taylor, D-Miss.; and others.

For information about the permit proposed by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, see the August issue of Soundings Trade Only, which went to press prior to Congress’ passing the Clean Boating Act of 2008.

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