Steel industry fights mass timber bill
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Legislation was introduced in the U.S. House in April to promote the use of mass timber in federal building projects and military construction, and while the timber industry is supportive of the bill, that support isn't universal.

The steel industry is not so enamored with the legislation. In a joint letter to Congress, the American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC), American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), and Steel Manufacturers Association (SMA) outline their firm opposition to the proposed Mass Timber Federal Buildings Act (S4149) – and urge members of Congress to reject the anti-competitive bill.

The bill, which was introduced by U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and James Risch (R-Idaho) on April 17, would give favorable treatment to the mass timber industry in the awarding of federal and military construction projects – at the expense of other building material competitors, including steel. The letter from steel industry leaders raised substantive concerns about the potential ramifications of this legislation on fair competition, taxpayer value, and sustainability practices within the construction sector.

“While we support the exploration and development of innovative building materials, this bill, and similar efforts create an unfair contracting preference and would ultimately hinder rather than promote responsible construction practices,” the letter says.

The Mass Timber Federal Buildings Act would create an incentive for the use of mass timber building materials by providing a preference in federal building contracts for mass timber products. This will give mass timber companies the ability to compete for federal construction, renovation, or acquisition of public buildings and for military construction.

The bill creates a two-tier contracting preference for mass timber. The first-tier preference applies to mass timber that is made within the U.S. and responsibly sourced from state, federal, private, and Tribal forestlands. The second tier, which is optional, applies to mass timber products that are sourced from restoration practices, fire mitigation projects, and/or underserved forest owners. Additionally, this bill contains a reporting requirement for a whole building lifecycle assessment. The results of this assessment will help provide additional evidence of the carbon sequestration benefits of mass timber buildings.

The Mass Timber Federal Buildings Act is endorsed by the American Wood Council, Sustainable Northwest, American Forest Resource Council, Forest Landowners Association, National Alliance of Forest Owners (NAFO), Southeastern Lumber Manufacturers Association, Weyerhaeuser, Freres Engineered Wood, and Oregon Mass Timber Coalition.

“It’s abundantly clear that mass timber and wood construction are right-now climate solutions that also support and grow our rural communities. The Mass Timber Federal Buildings Act marks a significant step toward ensuring that the federal government – our nation’s single biggest developer – utilizes these products to reduce the significant carbon emissions from the built environment in this country. The United States is global leader when it comes to managing our forests and the ecosystems, wildlife, and communities that depend on them. This language will ensure that these emerging markets are supported by American manufacturing and sustainably sourced American wood products,” said Jackson Morrill, president and CEO, American Wood Council.

"The United States is the gold standard for forest management practices, and private landowners lead the way in this effort to ensure economic and environmental benefits from this natural resource. While the increasing number of disasters and limited tools to recover threaten our working forests, expanding market access through policies like theMass Timber Federal Buildings Act of 2024 will provide private forest landowners opportunities to continue their sustainable operations by replacing carbon intensive building materials with our domestic supply of timber,” said Scott Jones, CEO, Forest Landowners Association.

In contrast to these viewpoints, the steel groups claim that:

  • Mandated Contracting Preferences: The proposed mandate for contracting preferences favoring wood products would disrupt the competitive bidding process and undermine taxpayer value by neglecting cost-effectiveness and project suitability considerations.
  • Supply Chain Concerns: The potential strain from a surge in demand for wood products, such as increased material costs, has broader implications on the construction industry and project budgets.
  • Neglecting True Sustainability: Mass timber’s sustainability claims are misleading and overstated. Factors such as energy efficiency, durability, and responsible sourcing should be considered in promoting sustainable building practices.
  • Safety Considerations: There is a need for thorough testing and code development to address concerns associated with mass timber construction.

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About the author
Larry Adams | Editor

Larry Adams is a Chicago-based writer and editor who writes about how things get done. A former wire service and community newspaper reporter, Larry is an award-winning writer with more than three decades of experience. In addition to writing about woodworking, he has covered science, metrology, metalworking, industrial design, quality control, imaging, Swiss and micromanufacturing . He was previously a Tabbie Award winner for his coverage of nano-based coatings technology for the automotive industry. Larry volunteers for the historic preservation group, the Kalo Foundation/Ianelli Studios, and the science-based group, Chicago Council on Science and Technology (C2ST).