Alaska Senator Stops EPA Permit Relief Bill - 07/02/2008
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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.

Lena Point Sign
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 boats.

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.

Lisa and Salmon
It appears as if Sen. Murkowski is carrying the smoked salmon for commercial interests.

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 into Pork

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.

Dead Salmon
Sen. Murkowski (the one in red) has killed S. 2766 as dead as this giant salmon.

Statesmanship Not Brinkmanship

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.

Political Payback?

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
Phone: 202-224-6665
Fax: 202-224-5301
E-Mail Link

(Even though she may not be your senator, she is impacting your boating pleasure and expense. She needs to know that.)

Sen. Ted Stevens
Phone: 202-224-3004
Fax: 202-224-2354
E-Mail Link

(Note: Disregard Steven’s request that out-of-state people not write him – he needs to hear from boaters all over the country.)