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 By DAVID KRAVETS The Associated Press

SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - Timber companies that engage in forest logging should be required to obtain federal stormwater pollution permits, a federal judge has ruled.

U.S. District Judge Marilyn Hall Patel said the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has misconstrued the 1972 federal Cleanwater Act by exempting logging companies from going through the permitting process for stormwater runoff.

Runoff of dirt, debris and chemicals is a major pollutant in rivers and harms fish and wildlife.

The Tuesday ruling was based on a lawsuit brought by the Environmental Protection Information Center and other groups against the EPA and a Pacific Lumber Co. logging operation in California's Humboldt County. The groups charged that Pacific Lumber was violating the Clean Water Act in the same manner as a factory that dumps pollutants into a river without a permit.

``This case is about requiring the same permitting that has been applied to most other industries for polluted storm water,'' said Mike Lozeau, an attorney working with the Environmental Protection Information Center.

Jim Branham, a Pacific Lumber spokesman, said the Northern California logging concern was considering its legal options, including appealing the ruling to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco.

``Obviously, we're concerned that her ruling, which seems to take the position that culverts, ditches and other kinds of conveyances on forest lands are point sources like pipes out of a factory. It's very disappointing,'' Branham said. ``If, ultimately, that decision becomes the law of the land, it will create complete chaos.''

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