June 11, 2008 - Owners of recreational boats, including canoes, kayaks and paddleboats, may be forced to obtain a federal permit as early as September, when the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to implement a new permitting program.
The proposed EPA permit system is a result of a 2006 California court decision involving the EPA that lumped together all types of boats into one general category.
It's hoped that the new permitting system will help in the fight against invasive species like zebra mussels and viral hemorrhagic septicemia (VHS).
Van Snider, president of the Michigan Boating Industries Association (MBIA), said "The litigation that resulted in the court's interpretation that recreational boats be included in a regulation to address commercial shipping bilge water and the introduction of invasive species is inappropriate."
Snider said the new permit system could cause damage to the boating industry. He added that the permit program is so expansive and burdensome that many owners may leave boating altogether.
Margaret Podlich, vice president of public affairs for Boat U.S., said implementing the permit program could also prove difficult because canoes and kayaks don't have to be registered in many states.
"How are we supposed to reach people who aren't registered to let them know they need this new permit?" she asked.
Boat U.S. is a Washington, D.C.-based boat owners association.
Podlich said when the permitting program is first implemented, it will most likely be a national program and permits will be free. However, she said she expects that as time goes on, the permitting responsibility will be passed onto states. When the states assume the program, a fee will most likely be charged to boat owners, according to Podlich.
"I have a hard time believing that states will offer the permit for free," Podlich said. "There will be a lot of work that goes into the states assuming responsibility and, in these times, I can't imagine them not charging a fee to help cover the costs of distributing these permits."
Snider agreed, stating "The state may view this as a method to increase their budgets through establishing a fee for the approximately 1 million boats in Michigan. It may help with the departments' funding shortfall."
Shakeba Carter-Jenkins, press officer for the EPA, said the agency is planning on proposing the draft permit program in mid-June and will be requesting public comment.
"Recreational boaters will have an opportunity to have their comments considered before the permit is finalized," Carter-Jenkins said. "The EPA intends to follow a common-sense approach in addressing recreational boats that places an emphasis on good-boating practices. We are also making efforts to minimize paperwork burdens for recreational boaters."
Despite concerns about the new system, there's a small glimmer of hope for recreational boaters.
The Clean Boating Act of 2008 has passed through committees in both the U.S. House and Senate. If passed into law, the act would exempt recreational boats from the new permits.
"It's a good sign it was passed out of committee, and the next step is to get it to the floor," Podlich said.
The bills need to move to the House and Senate floors for votes this summer, something that may be a little difficult, according to Podlich.
"The elections are distracting them, as well as the other bills they are working to pass," she said of federal lawmakers. "For example, this week I know they are working on climate change legislation.
"There are only 11 weeks left for the Legislature to take action on the Clean Boating Act. It's a lot of work crammed into a small amount of time. We really need to try and keep the ball rolling," she said.
"If the Clean Boating Act isn't passed, boaters will strongly protest the implementation of this permit," the MBIA's Snider said. "Any legislator who doesn't support the act via his or her vote on the House or Senate floor will be facing a huge voting block that won't be happy with their decision."
Both Podlich and Snider said the permits will be ineffective in preventing the introduction of new invasive species.
"The permit will not help," Podlich said. "There has been fabulous education programs in the Great Lakes area on how to not spread invasive species."
She said the new permit program is an unnecessary burden on boaters, especially in these tight economic times and with gas prices soaring.
"It's just another hassle. The most frustrating thing about the whole situation is that it won't accomplish anything," she said
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