A San Francisco-based group has recently renewed efforts to prevent watercraft racing. Using a similar strategy to efforts that have been successful in the past, rather than attack the industry directly Bluewater Network has instead targeted a third party, in this case the United States Coast Guard. Contending in a letter to Commandant Thomas Collins that the agency’s management of personal watercraft races violates federal laws, including the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), Bluewater’s apparent intention is to bully the USCG into putting a stop to PWC racing.
Under NEPA guidelines, federal agencies such as the USCG are required to evaluate the potential impacts upon the environment of “actions” such as PWC racing. Furthermore, according to the Bluewater letter, NEPA requires public notice of such an evaluation and the opportunity for public comment on any PWC races permitted by the USCG.
“A significant part of the Coast Guard’s mission is to protect the aquatic environment from threats such as Jet Ski races,” said Sean Smith, Bluewater Network’s Public Lands Director. “It’s time for the USCG to comply with federal law and fully investigate the potential damage Jet Ski races cause the nation’s environment and wildlife.”
Bluewater contends that PWC racing produces a “major impact” on the environment, claiming that during last year’s Benicia Waterfront Festival racing resulted in dramatically higher levels of benzene and methyl-tertiary butyl ether (MTBE) in only five short hours. According to the Bluewater statement, benzene levels exceeded health standards by 270%. MTBE levels were more than 730% of state standards and 1900% above standards established for taste and odor. Further Bluewater claims noted a race in Canandaigua, NY, which the group claims resulted in the increase in toxic substances including benzene, toluene, and MTBE by as much as 11,000%. The letter also made reference to a 1999 California Coastal Commission decision to deny the IJSBA a permit to relocate the World Finals to San Diego’s Mission Bay, due in part, Bluewater claims, to reports that the race would “dump nearly 10,000 gallons of unburned gas and oil into the environment. The commission was reportedly told that the three-day event would release as much air pollution as driving a modern car nearly 37,000,000 miles.
What Bluewater requested of the Coast Guard is that, at minimum, they review the environmental impact of races scheduled for waterfront festivals in Benicia, Calif., Milwaukee, Wisc., and Burwell, Neb., as well as the Washington State Championships, Belton, TX-based Endurance/SuperCourse National Championships, and the IJSBA World Finals, scheduled to take place in Lake Havasu City, Ariz. the week of October 3-10. Failure to do so may, according to Bluewater, render the races “subject to a court challenge.”
The IJSBA wasted little time in responding to Bluewater’s latest volley, firing off a letter to Commandant Collins that disputed much of the Bluewater argument, referring to much of the letter as “inaccuracies and blatant falsehoods.”
Taking Bluewater’s complaints point-by-point, IJSBA Legal Counsel Stephan Andranian first argued that Bluewater’s contention that the legal statute requiring federal agencies to consider the potential impacts of a proposed action upon the environment is not appropriate to smaller events such as PWC racing, but instead emphasized that federal agencies only release detailed statements on so-called “major actions” undertaken by the particular federal agency. Andranian argued that the permitting of a local, one-time-only special event could hardly be considered a major action by the USCG. The requirements of NEPA would also only apply if the “major Federal act” in question would significantly affect the quality of the human environment.
More to the point, Andranian argued that Bluewater’s claims that PWC racing harmed the environment was based on weird science, or outdated facts, a familiar claim from Bluewater’s previous attempt to keep personal watercraft out of the national park system.
According to the Andranian letter, Bluewater selectively used select portions of other actions and tests “in order to color the issue against PWC racing,” purposely omitting items in a blatant attempt to paint PWC in such a negative light that the USCG would be forced to act. Examples include the Benicia Water Front Festival, which Andranian argues was not tested to any nationally recognized standard for water quality, and Canandaigua, where testing only three days after an event which included 100 racers showed a “dramatic decline” in fuel components found during the race ( a fact that Andranian argues confirms Environmental Protection Agency findings that fuel quickly leaves the water). The Andranian response also took aim at the California Coast Commission Report, claiming it was misquoted and that the report actually recommended approval of the PWC race event, noting that the “proposed races would contribute a relatively small increase in the number of jet ski operating hours and their associated impacts on Mission Bay.” Andranian pointed out that the number contained in the report regarding the release of air pollution during the event was based on inaccurate figures which were later corrected, and that even with the inaccurate figures,the Commission recommended approval based on the “worst case scenario” results. The staff was quick to point out that even these worst-case numbers would only constitute a 0.015% increase in emissions for the year, and in a populated county such as San Diego, would not significantly impact air or water quality.
As further evidence that PWC racing does not significantly impact the environment, Andranian made note of other tests not quoted in the Bluewater letter, including those surrounding the 1997 national event that the IJSBA held in Anaheim, California. In order to hold the event, the IJSBA was forced to $250,000 bond to guarantee that the 14 million gallons of Orange County drinking water that was used to fill the artificial pool would be returned unspoiled. Following the three-day race, a battery of tests were performed on the water, which showed no trace of fuel components. The water was returned and the bond money refunded.
Other tests noted by Andranian include an EPA study in 1996 that found two-cycle emissions did not have a great impact on the marine environment because the small amounts of unburned hydrocarbons which did enter the water quickly evaporate, and 1999 tests conducted by the city of Truce, Calif. after a July 4th weekend race that found no trace of fuel components in the drinking water.
THE BATTLE CONTINUES
Noting that the organization found it “unsettling” that one group could selectively edit studies for its own gain, and that the organization was rightly concerned that misleading statements by groups such as Bluewater would soon be relied on as fact if not corrected, the IJSBA stated that they stand ready and willing to assist the USCG, or any other federal agency, in their efforts to promote clean, responsible, and safe boating. Bluewater’s response has been to note that the PWC industry appears to be “rattled” by their request, and even has hinted at the fact the IJSBA “knows their current races break the law,” a conclusion apparently based on an American Watercraft Association press release that urged riders to stand up for their rights to ride and defend the sport against the no-access movement. psb