Last Thursday night, June 26th, Sen. Bill Nelson
on the floor of the U.S. Senate requested “unanimous consent” on S. 2766, the Clean
Boating Act of 2008 (aka, EPA Permit Relief Bill) and it was about to pass, thus
sparing 17 million Americans from the onerous, new EPA Regs when…one, lone Senator
objected. But that was all it took to stop the bill cold in its tracks on its way
to enactment. With just 18 congressional “working” days left before the Sept. 30th
deadline (see video below explaining
this), Sen. Lisa Murkowski
has chosen to try to advance the interests of commercial fishing vessel owners above
the interests of 51,000 Alaskan recreational boat owners – to say nothing of the
17 million American boat owners in the other 49 states.
The two Alaskan senators (standing at right) usually work together.
First, the Facts and Figures
There are 49,127 registered recreational boats in Alaska. There are also 1,928 recreational
boats that are documented. This gives us a total of 51,055 recreational boats in
Alaska. All would be covered by the Clean Boating Act of 2008 and be spared new,
harsh EPA regulations.
In addition to these vessels, there are a total of 5,424 USCG Documented commercial
vessels of all types and sizes in Alaska, including 3,724 commercial fishing vessels that were not built as recreational boats. It is
for the owners of these boats that Sen. Murkowski is killing a bill that would help
17 million American boaters.
Who Comes First?
What all of this means is that Sen. Murkowski has put the interests of the owners
of 5,424 commercial vessels above those of the owners of 51,055 registered or documented
recreational boats in her own state and above the rest of us, too.
Why would she do this?
“The act does not help owners of small commercial fishing boats which will be put
out of business by the new EPA regs,” one of Sen. Murkowski’s aides told us. “No
one is standing up for the small commercial fisherman,” he said.
But there is more to the story because “small” commercial fishermen using recreational
boats ARE covered by the Clean Boating Bill of 2008 if they are using recreational
Mat Dunn, the NMMA’s congressional liaison officer working on the bill, says, “As
long as a boat is manufactured for recreational purposes and is not a USCG-inspected
commercial vessel, it falls under S.2677. It does not matter whether the boat is
used for commercial fishing or not.”
It appears as if Sen. Murkowski is carrying the smoked salmon for commercial interests.
It appears as if Sen. Murkowski is carrying the smoked salmon for commercial
Something Smells Fishy
So if many of the truly “small” commercial fishermen are covered by S.2766, exactly whose
interests is Sen. Murkowski actually defending -- the “small” commercial fishermen
as she claims, or the owners of large commercial vessels, owners of fleets of fishing
vessels, and owners of factory ships?
The fact is that the commercial fishing industry has been trying to get a law passed
exempting them from EPA regulation for some time and they have gotten little traction
in Congress due to the strong opposition of the environment lobby. In fact, everyone
on the Hill knows that commercial vessels don’t have a prayer of getting a congressional
free-pass on EPA discharge regs.
As a result,
through Sen. Murkowski, commercial interests are trying to tie their vessels to
the only bill moving through Congress on the subject – S.2766. That is what is really
going on here. Commercial interests are grabbing at a straw, using
Sen. Murkowski, and they could care less about American boaters.
Turning Permit Exemptions
Since everyone knows that adding commercial vessels to the Clean Boating Act of 2008
effectively kills any chance of passage – ever – why is Sen. Murkowski doing
this? She is relatively young, but she was not born yesterday.
Some Washington observers think that Murkowski is holding up passage of S.2766 to
get some concessions for commercial vessels. Others think that she is trying to
show her commercial fishing contributors that she is fighting for their interests,
and will roll over only when it is clear that the bill will not move with any amendments.
No one is speculating that she has the interests of recreational boaters at heart,
or even cares about them.
Sen. Murkowski (the one in red) has killed S. 2766 as dead as this giant salmon.
Sen. Olympia Snow (R-ME) and Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), in contrast, also have a
large commercial fishing constituency. In fact there are even more registered commercial
fishing boats in Maine than in Alaska – 6,667. But Sen. Snow and Sen. Collins have
taken a statesmanlike position and are supporting S. 2766. They know that it is
better to save boaters from harsh, unwarranted EPA regulation than putting every
boat owner at the mercy of the EPA bureaucracy.
Sen. Elizabeth Dole (R-NC) and Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC) also have a large commercial
fishing constituency – 6,207 registered commercial fishing boats – but they, too,
have also concluded that it is better to protect recreational boaters by supporting
S.2766 than having all boat owners interests torpedoed by environmentalists hell-bent
on regulating commercial vessels.
Finally, in the state with more registered commercial
fishing boats than any other – Louisiana with 13,419 – both U.S. Senators, Sen.
David Vitter (R-LA) and Sen. Mary Landrieu (D-LA), support the Clean Boating Act
of 2008. Of course they also represent the interests of the commercial fishermen
in their state, but they are practical enough, realistic enough, to know that that
is a fight for another day.
All six of these statesmanlike Senators are protecting the interests of recreational
boaters not only in their states but all over the country. They know that it is
not a matter of putting the interests of one constituency over another, but simply
a matter of accepting the reality of political life in America today and if they
can save 17 million boaters from needless regulation, they will do it.
Where does all of this leave Sen. Murkowski? In our
opinion, it leaves her supporting the interests of big Alaskan fishing fleets (who
might also be her big financial contributors), never mind that in the process she
is killing a reasonable bill that almost everyone supports. It appears to be a matter
of her own self-interest, and the country’s boaters be damned. Whether you like
her or not, whether you live in Alaska or not, she is single-handedly committing
all boaters to a new world of unfettered EPA regulation.
One Last Try for Sanity
What can you do about Sen. Murkowski’s blockage of
S. 2766? Our sources on the Hill recommend that you do two things:
1) Contact Sen. Murkowski and urge her to drop her
obstruction of S. 2766 for the good of recreational boaters both in her state and
all over America. Ask her to restore “unanimous consent” for S.2766.
2) Contact Sen. Ted Stevens, her Alaskan senatorial collogue, and ask him to urge
Sen. Murkowski to stop EPA encroachment on the rights of recreational boaters in
Alaska and everywhere in the U.S.
Senate office phone
and fax numbers:
Sen. Lisa Murkowski –
(Even though she may not be your senator, she is impacting your boating pleasure
and expense. She needs to know that.)
Sen. Ted Stevens –
(Note: Disregard Steven’s request that out-of-state people not write him – he needs
to hear from boaters all over the country.)