What started out as a battle pitting the U.S. Government vs. Gibson Guitar, highlighted by two federal raids and confiscation of questionable wood and guitars from its plants, has rapidly spiraled into a multi-front, war over what if anything should be done to change the Lacey Act.
Recently joining the fray is a new coalition of manufacturing companies, retailers, non-profits, and associations taking the name the Lacey Act Defense National Consensus Committee (LACNCC). The group pledges to draw up a consensus-based standard within the next four months intended to clarify the regulatory guidelines and enforcement rules of the controversial 100-year-old Lacey Act. Three years ago, the Lacey Act itself was broadened beyond its original scope to protect endangered plants and wildlife in an effort to thwart the importation of wood and wood products from illegally harvested forests.
The LACNNC has an impressive and eclectic mix of members, including: Gibson Guitar, C.F. Martin & Company, National Association of Music Merchants, Forest Stewardship Council, Rainforest Alliance, National Wood Flooring Association, Floor Covering Institute, Sustainable Furnishings Council, Williams Sonoma, Staples, Home Depot, Kimberly Clark, Columbia Forest Products, Danzer Group, Knoll Furniture, Kimberly Clark, National Wildlife Federation, Anderson Berkshire Hathaway and Capital Markets Partnership.
Richard Donovan, senior vice president of the Rainforest Alliance, explained, "Importantly, the standard has the potential to fill an important gap in terms of understanding the concept of due care as it applies to the amended Lacey Act and in doing so positively affect the conservation of forests around the world.”
How to You Spell RELIEF?
Meanwhile a battle is taking shape based on a bill recently introduced by U.S. Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) to protect consumers from being incriminated for potentially illegal wood products they owned before the Lacey Act was amended on May 22, 2008. Under Cooper’s Retailers and Entertainers Lacey Implementation and Enforcement Fairness (RELIEF) Act, people who own wood products that violates Lacey, but are unaware that it is in violation, can't be penalized nor can the government confiscate property.
The RELIEF Act shows how groups can work together on one front but battle on another. For example, the National Association of Music Merchants (NAMM), while working with the Rainforest Alliance on crafting the Lacey Act standard mentioned at the top of this blog, is on opposite sides of the fence on the RELIEF Act. NAMM is backing Cooper’s bill, while the Rainforest Alliance is aligning with a group formed to black its passage.
In a letter to members of the House of Representatives, the group offers a strong condemnation of the RELIEF Act. “A more accurate name for this bill would be the Relief for Illegal Loggers Act,” said Dr. Douglas Boucher, director of the Tropical Forest and Climate Initiative at the Union of Concerned Scientists.
In addition to the Rainforest Alliance, signers of the letter include about two dozen groups such as the Environmental Investigation Agency, Greenpeace, Natural Resources Defense Council, Rainforest Action Network, Sierra Club, The Field Museum, Saint Louis Zoo and World Wildlife Fund.
The RELIEF Act’s critics contend that the legislation would “completely exempt pulp and paper from Lacey Act requirements,” and would create fines as low as $250 for first-time Lacey Act infractions.
“This legislation puts out the welcome mat for foreign illegal logging operations and those unscrupulous operators who do business with them,” said Jake Schmidt, international climate policy director of the Natural Resources Defense Council.
Meanwhile, seven other trade group incuding NAMM, the American Home Furnishings Alliance, the International Wood Products Association and the National Association of Home Builders, voiced their support for the RELIEF Act in a letter to Rep. Cooper. An exerpt: "We especially value how you have accurately identified, and are attempting to correct, several of the specific issues the business community has been raising for more than three years. Our associations have long advocated the establishment of an “innocent owner” provision within Lacey, while simultaneously supporting enhanced enforcement against the true targets of Lacey: criminals who knowingly violate the law."
In September, Woodworking Network reported on a group of wood industry associations and other groups that called a teleconference to voice support for preserving the Lacey Act. The group includes the Hardwood Federation, National Hardwood Lumber Association, Environmental Investigation Agency, United Steelworkers and Taylor Guitar.
Where this will all end, including the Department of Justice’s investigation of Gibson Guitar and attempts to amend the Lacey Act, remains to be seen.
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