WASHINGTON (AP) -- In a blow to conservationists, the Environmental Protection Agency said it will exempt loggers, tree farmers and other forestry operations from a pending rule aimed at reducing water pollution on private land.
The move is a major victory for the wood products industry, which aggressively fought the rule. Among other things, critics sent the EPA 30,000 postcards and held public meetings to encourage opposition.
''They finally heard the loud uproar across this country ... that what they were proposing simply wouldn't work,'' Chris West, vice president of the Northwest Forestry Association in Portland, Ore., said Tuesday.
The EPA will propose a new rule this fall that would cover forestry practices, said Charles Fox, assistant EPA administrator for water. That rule has an uncertain fate: It would be up to a George W. Bush or Al Gore administration to decide whether to enact it.
The rest of the original rule, which would affect farmers and other private landowners, should become final in about a month, Fox said.
He said criticism directed at the forestry portion of the rule was distracting attention from the overall plan to clean up the nation's waterways, so the EPA decided last week to make the exemption.
''There's no question that the industry mounted an extremely aggressive and no doubt expensive campaign,'' he said. ''Much of the information they put out was not entirely true, if not downright false in some cases.''
The rule proposed last August requires states to submit plans to clean up every waterway that fails to meet quality standards for fishing, drinking and swimming, among other categories.
EPA estimates more than 20,000 streams and lakes don't meet water-quality standards, or about 40 percent of all lakes, rivers and streams in the nation.
States would be required to say how much pollution should be allowed from indirect sources, such as farmers or parking lot owners who send polluted runoff into streams.
Landowners would be required to get a pollution discharge permit if the EPA found they were contributing to nearby water quality problems and if a state had failed to draft an adequate plan for improving water quality.
Forestry groups said under the rule, private landowners would need an EPA permit to cut down or even plant trees. The expensive and time-consuming process would put some small forestry practices out of business, the groups said.
Fox said 99 percent of forestry operations would not have been affected. Only a few problem polluters would have been required to get EPA permits, he said.
Opposition also came from states like Washington and Oregon, which already regulate private forestry lands and say new regulatory tools are not needed.
Sen. Blanche Lincoln, D-Ark., sponsored legislation to exempt the forestry industry from the rule. Other lawmakers hope to derail the rest of the proposal before it takes effect.
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