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Bill exempting boaters from permits is now law

President Bush signed into law the Clean Boating Act of 2008 in July, protecting the nation’s estimated 17 million recreational boaters from cumbersome and complicated federal regulations.
Without legislative relief, the Environmental Protection Agency was set to implement new permitting rules for boaters by Oct. 1.

“This is welcome news for all recreational marine manufacturers,” said Thom Dammrich, president of the National Marine Manufacturers Association, the day after the signing. “NMMA raised the alarm on this misguided court decision nearly two years ago, and we are thrilled that Congress and the President have prevented the bureaucratic nightmare that was set to become law.”

Introduced by Sens. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., and Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., and Reps. Steve LaTourette, R-Ohio, and Candice Miller, R-Mich, the legislation permanently and fully restores a regulation, excluding recreational boaters and anglers from the Clean Water Act’s federal and state permitting system designed for land-based industrial facilities.

Both chambers of Congress passed the legislation a week before the President signed it into law aboard Air Force One while traveling from Ohio to Washington, D.C.

“It was a thrill to get the bill passed because it helps every recreational boater in the country and stops this silly pollution permit process in its tracks,” said LaTourette, who was with President Bush at the bill signing.

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

“It’s just a wonderful day for boating,” Margaret Podlich, vice president of government affairs for BoatU.S., said the morning after the signing. Podlich and the NMMA officials praised the efforts by many in the industry that led to the passage. “The beauty of this year-plus effort is that everybody came together toward this common goal,” she said.

Stakeholders, lead by the NMMA and BoatU.S., founded a group called BoatBlue in December 2006. The BoatBlue coalition grew to include outdoor enthusiasts and conservation groups from a wide and diverse background.

The group urged those with an interest in the bill to contact their lawmakers on the issue. An estimated 150,000 people sent e-mails to Congress on the issue, with 120,000 e-mails alone coming via the BoatBlue.org Web site.

How it came about
The EPA was required by a court order to come up with a permitting plan.

The issue dates back to 1999 when the Northwest Environmental Advocates, Center for Marine Conservation and Great Lakes United petitioned the EPA on concerns focused on ballast water.

Ships, in an effort to maintain stability while in transit, filled their ballast tanks with water. Large ships often carry millions of gallons of ballast water, which can contain organisms ranging from microscopic plants and animals to larger, invasive species, such as zebra mussels.

In September 2003, the EPA denied the petition and the groups filed a lawsuit later that year.

In March 2005, a U.S. district court ruled that the regulation excluding the EPA from permitting the discharges incidental to the normal operation of a vessel exceeded the agency’s authority.

In September 2006, a final order revoked the exclusion as of Sept. 30, 2008, potentially affecting all incidental discharges of vessels. The discharges are not limited to ballast water, but nearly 28 additional types of discharges as well, the EPA said.

In November of that year, the government filed a notice of appeal with the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, and oral arguments were heard Aug. 17, 2007.

At the time the bill was signed, the court had not issued a decision. Industry leaders, unsure of how the court would rule, had said legislative action was the only way to restore the exemption.

This article originally appeared in the September 2008 issue.

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