Politics as Usual

In last month’s Sightings, we expanded on a May 11 ‘Lectronic Latitude report on Washington’s ban on copper bottom paint and that California was close to passing a similar law in SB 623. The Recreational Boaters of California and Boat U.S. have been vociferous in their opposition to the bill and, in an effort to whip up taxpayer ire, have gone so far as to imply that the average boater would get stuck with a biennial bottom job bill of $5K. But the reality of the bill was much more mundane: copper paints would be banned starting in 2019, giving boaters eight years to find a non-copper paint substitute. This shouldn’t have been too troublesome since so many inexpensive and effective alternatives are already on the market — and more are released every year by paint companies who seem to understand which way the wind is blowing.

Though we’re never overly enthusiastic about government interference in people’s lives, we cautiously supported the bill as it was written.

But California politics are never easy or simple. SB 623 passed the State Senate on June 2 and moved on to the Committee on Environmental Safety and Toxic Materials. On Tuesday, an amended verison of the bill was released, and it bears almost no resemblance to the previous version. As amended, the bill would allow the use of "low-leach rate copper antifouling paints" and would require the Department of Pesticide Regulation to "determine the maximum allowable leach rate" for such paints by January 1, 2014. A year after that, all other copper paints would be banned.

"Low-leach rate" isn’t defined in the bill, but our assumption on reading it was that non-ablative/"hard" paints would be the likely choice. Don’t count on it, says a source well-informed on the legislation. He says a paint’s actual copper content, not at the rate at which it leaches, will likely be what the DPR looks at.

But the changes to the bill don’t stop there. The biggest change — the one that made us think, "That has to be a typo!" — is the provision that if the State Water Resources Control Board determines that low-leach copper paints are still contributing to poor water quality (just how they’d separate it out from, say, copper brake pads is anyone’s guess), ALL antifouling paints would be banned. Yes, you read that correctly. All.

"117146 (b): On or after January 1, 2019, if the State Water Resources Control Board does not demonstrate that the trend line of the measured water quality data points toward attainment of the dissolved copper water quality objectives in California marinas and harbors, then the use or application of antifouling paint on recreational vessels shall be prohibited one year after the determination."

We’re assured by our source that the word "copper" wasn’t accidentally left out — all bottom paints would be banned, and boaters would be required to remove the paint on their boats. Not only would that be ridiculously expensive for boaters, but it would also be completely unenforceable. And let’s not even discuss where all that ground off copper paint would go, because we all know an obscene amount would end up right back in our waters, doing far more harm than if it’d just stayed on the bottom of our boats.

Talk about throwing the baby out with the bathwater!

So why on earth did the bill get changed so drastically? Our source suspects the RBOC had a heavy hand in sabotaging this latest draft, wording it in such a way that essentially makes it a lame duck law because of its unenforcablity (the state can’t afford to keep DMV open five days a week, much less check every boat for copper bottom paint). Either that, or the environmental lobby pushing the bill through is competely out of touch with reality. Interestingly, the RBOC seems much more in favor of SB 623 as currently written (though they wrongly state that only copper paint could be banned in ’19), which might lead someone to agree with our source’s first suggestion.

Regardless, we’re sad to say what had been a promising piece of legislation is now one of the more ridiculous boating-related bills we’ve seen in a while. No matter which side of the fence you stand on, it’s a lose-lose, and a complete waste of the legislature’s valuable time.

And don’t be surprised when it passes.

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