Gene Mueller: EPA permit is bureaucratic nightmare

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What may have begun as a serious attempt to force the maritime industry to keep its ships from discharging harmful substances into American waters now has outraged the Congressional Sportsmen Foundation (CSF), boaters group BoatU.S. and sportfishing clubs up and down the coast.

The dustup is over an Environmental Protection Agency permit proposal that could turn into an expensive nightmare for millions of people who own recreational boats. I’m one of those boat owners, and the EPA’s draft permit to regulate “normal operational discharges” could mean trouble as far as enforcement is concerned.

BoatU.S., for instance, says the draft permit might include even canoes and kayaks. Under the proposal, boaters and anglers would be included under new federal Clean Water Act regulations that will take effect Sept. 30. The permit will put individual recreational boat owners under the same penalty structure as large commercial ships. In other words, if you are seen hosing down your boat by the edge of a marina’s waterfront and someone decides the normally safe boat cleaning solution you sprayed on the fiberglass was in violation of the federal Clean Water Act, you could risk a fine as high as $32,500.

“What happens if a neighbor [witnesses] accidentally spilled orange juice draining out of the scuppers or sees you wipe algae off the scum line?” BoatU.S. vice president of government affairs Margaret Podlich said. “Under the present draft permit guidelines, all of these instances may be deemed a violation of the Clean Water Act. Even topping off a fuel tank, which is recommended for winter storage of today’s ethanol-laden gasoline, could be considered a violation.”

Said the CSF, which has members in Congress on both sides of the aisle, in an e-mail: “The EPA proposal represents a sweeping, unprecedented and confusing new regulatory regime for every recreational boat operator or owner in the country, demonstrating the urgent need to pass the Clean Boating Act of 2008 [S. 2766 and H. R. 5949].”

The CSF forgot to add that the Clean Boating Act should be passed without the EPA’s cumbersome permit proposal, but I’m certain that’s what it meant. As it stands, there already are plenty of regulations to address misdeeds by recreational boaters.

I believe the EPA wanted to make sure no commercial vessel coming into U.S. waters would get away cheaply if it flushed its bilges into, say, the Chesapeake Bay or dumped trash, discharged fuel or other harmful substances into rivers and oceans. Somewhere along the way, an eager-beaver EPA egghead decided all boats should be included in the scheme, which eventually would require approval from each state. In turn, each state could pile on its own regulations - more bureaucracy, for sure - forcing us to comply with a number of new, unnecessary laws. On top of that, when the permitting system is run through the government wringers, an insidious by-product will be a fee system that can reach into all boat owners’ pockets.

If you wish to contact your federal legislators or learn more about the Clean Boating Act of 2008, go to BoatBlue.org or www.BoatUS.com/gov.

The Maryland Waterfowler’s Association will sponsor two youth hunts during the special November waterfowl day designed for children. Anyone who is 15 and younger who wants a free hunt can write an essay of 200 words or less on “Why I would like to hunt waterfowl on Maryland’s 2008 Youth Hunting Day.”

The essays must be received by Sept. 1. Two winners will be chosen Sept. 14, but they must meet certain conditions on the day of the hunt. Each youth must be accompanied by a parent or responsible adult age 21 or older. Each hunter must meet all the state youth hunting requirements, and the accompanying adult may not have a firearm in their possession at any time.

With the subject line “Youth essay,” e-mail mdwfa@mdwfa.org or mail to MDWFA, 1916 Crain Highway, Suite 16, Glen Burnie, Md., 21061, attention Youth Hunt. Include your name, age, phone number and address.

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