Borough Mayor Applauds Rep. Young for Protecting Fishermen with Clean Boating Act

May 30, 2008

Sand Point, AK – May 30, 2008 – Aleutians East Borough Mayor Stanley Mack praises Rep. Don Young ( R ) Alaska for his role in encouraging Congress to include the small commercial fishing industry in the Clean Boating Act of 2008 (H.R. 5949).

“Once again, Mr. Young is demonstrating he understands the needs of Alaska’s fishermen,” said Aleutians East Borough Mayor Stanley Mack. “It’s clear he possesses a tremendous ability to work with both political parties to solve a problem for Alaska and the rest of the country.”

H.R. 5949 exempts recreational boaters from having to obtain a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit from the EPA (or their state environmental agency) as mandated by a recent federal court decision concerning ballast water. Young and more than a dozen members of Congress from coastal states are urging James Oberstar, Chairman of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, to work with them to enact legislation which would continue permit exemptions for both recreational boaters and the small commercial fishing industry. The House lawmakers are urging Oberstar to address this matter during the next Committee markup. The Senate is expected to send its version of the recreational-only legislation to the House in the coming weeks. Oberstar has agreed to amend the Senate bill with provisions addressing small commercial fishing vessels and then send it back to the Senate.

Without such an exemption, the permit requirement could potentially affect millions of commercial fishermen, recreational boats, freight vessels and tank barges. The total cost for a single permit application amounts to approximately $177,000 – an exorbitant price that could leave many commercial fishermen in the Aleutians East Borough financially devastated. Furthermore, 18 million recreational boats and more than 80,000 similarly sized commercial fishing vessels would be subject to fines totaling more than $32,000 per day for minor discharges such as bilge water, deck wash and even rain water runoff.

In the past, the EPA combined commercial and sport fishing vessels under a general discharge permit. In 1999, environmentalists, led by Northwest Environmental Advocates, based in Portland, Oregon, petitioned the EPA, requesting that certain discharges from vessels, including ballast water, not be excluded from the requirement to obtain a NPDES permit under the Clean Water Act. The groups are concerned that ballast water taken onboard to balance ships and then discharged into U.S. waters can bring invasive species into U.S. aquatic ecosystems. The EPA denied the petition, so the environmental groups sued.

In March 2005, the court decided that the EPA regulation that excluded discharges exceeded the agency’s authority under the Clean Water Act. In September 2006, the court revoked the exclusions, but gave the EPA two years to develop a program. The following year, the federal court decided that the Clean Water Act applies to most vessels operating in U.S. waters. The proposed rules require each vessel to submit a discharge plan (including dealing with deck runoff) before they are issued a permit.

The EPA appealed the court ruling. Shortly afterwards, the Aleutians East Borough (AEB) filed an amicus brief (friend of the court). It stated that the Borough believes the public interest will not be served if smaller vessels are suddenly regulated and required to obtain special permits. Furthermore, the Borough stated that it has critical interests in protecting the marine environment while at the same time preserving the economic viability of commercial and subsistence fishing in the Borough.

The Borough requested the court to reverse the September 2006 district court ruling, which would maintain the status quo. The main reason is that requiring a NPDES permit for vessels used for necessary transportation (including emergencies), recreation, commercial fishing and subsistence livelihood will impose a severe and unnecessary economic hardship on most Borough residents.

The EPA estimates that it would cost a new permit applicant approximately $29,000 to read and understand the rule and train staff. It’s estimated that it would cost an additional $148,000 to prepare the permit application and complete the source water body flow information. The total cost for a single permit application amounts to a minimum of approximately $177,000. That cost exceeds the value of some of the commercial fishing vessels used in the Borough. The AEB further stated in the amicus brief that such enormous costs would eat up any profits that may be earned by commercial fishermen, causing ripples of negative economic consequences within the Borough and the commercial fishing industry as a whole.

While the court is considering the EPA’s appeal, the agency is gearing up to impose the vessel discharge permit program, in case the agency’s appeal is turned down. The permit program is scheduled to go into effect September 30, 2008.

“What is needed here is a balanced approach that recognizes the problems and presents solutions,” said Mayor Mack. “My fishing boat never leaves our salmon fishing district. There’s no reason it should be treated just like a tanker or a freighter which travel around the world before entering U.S. waters. That’s why an exemption for the small commercial fishing industry and recreational boaters is the common-sense solution.”The Aleutians East Borough is the municipal government encompassing the southwestern portion of the Alaska Peninsula and a number of the easternmost Aleutian Islands. It extends 300 miles along the eastern side of the Alaska Peninsula and includes the communities of Sand Point, Cold Bay, King Cove, False Pass, Akutan and Nelson Lagoon. The communities are dependent on subsistence and commercial fishing.