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Volume 16, Issue 24 - June 12 - June 18, 2008


Give Recreational Boaters a
Break from Useless Permits

We’re keeping an eye on the sort of governmental shuffling that soon could require new boating permits that serve no purpose.

Unless Congress acts quickly, Chesapeake Bay boaters may be subject to Environmental Protection Agency rules by as early as September that require discharge permits when nothing is discharged.

This is a twisted situation that involves all three branches of the federal government and soon could bring states into the equation, which may be what we have the most to fear.

At its core, the issue has merit: preventing ballast water on ships from carrying invasive species into our waters. That is indeed something to worry about, given what we are seeing with the arrival of pipe-clogging zebra mussels in the Great Lakes and various unwanted aquatic organisms into many of our waters.

But in efforts to tackle this issue, things went awry in ways that give government a bad name.

Where to start? The boating industry likes to begin with a court ruling in 2006 instructing the EPA to implement a permit system to restrict what gets discharged into the nation’s waters. Remember that the primary issue here is ballast water, vast quantities of which are taken on board to provide stability — along with tiny, living stowaways.

We prefer to go back to 1999, when environmental advocates asked the EPA to get more active in trying to prevent the arrival of dangerous invasives. But the EPA, as in most cases over the last seven years, refused to do its job. Enter the courts, and confusion.

Now the EPA is proceeding with a shotgun approach that includes all boats, among them recreational vessels that don’t have ballast water, saying that the court ruling “appears to implicate an extremely large number of vessels and a range of discharges.”

If the EPA was serious about invasive species, it would be going after ships, not harassing 13 million state-registered recreational boats.

Fortunately, Congress has gotten into the act, with bills in both the Senate and the House that exempt recreational vessels. Both pieces of legislation passed out of committee last month and technically could win final approval any day. But this sorry saga isn’t over.

There’s little time left to act considering that Congress is up to its eyeballs in consequential matters, takes August off and does little in the fall of election years. On top of that, word is that lobbyists for bigger commercial vessels are trying to muscle in on the exemptions, which, given the way money talks on Capitol Hill, could bollix up matters.

The worry here is that before politicians and bureaucrats come to their senses, the EPA will hand over permitting authority to money-hungry states fond of socking boaters with fees. Yes, Maryland falls into that category.

We shake our heads in disbelief.

© COPYRIGHT 2008 by New Bay Enterprises, Inc. All rights reserved.