WASHINGTON - The Republican leadership cancelled a vote originally scheduled for this week in the House of Representatives on H.R. 3210, the “RELIEF Act.” A broad coalition of forest products companies, workers, conservation groups, and musicians praised House leadership for halting the measure, which would have many negative economic and ecological consequences if passed.

"The US hardwood industry applauds Speaker John Boehner and Majority Leader Eric Cantor for recognizing the serious concerns we’ve raised that the proposed changes to the Lacey Act could result in significant job losses and undercut progress in curbing illegal logging,” said Brad Thompson, CEO of Columbia Forest Products and President of the Hardwood Federation. "We are committed to working together with Congress to do what is best for US forestry jobs and forests worldwide."

Environmental organizations also shared Thompson’s sentiments. "We applaud the decision to cancel this week’s vote on H.R. 3210—a bill that would have devastating consequences for the environment, the economy, and jobs,” said Ilana Solomon, Trade Representative with the Sierra Club. “We are also thankful to Representatives Ed Markey and Earl Blumenauer for their tireless efforts to highlight the importance of the Lacey Act and the ramifications of the H.R. 3210. It is now imperative that H.R. 3210 permanently stays off the floor of Congress."

In the days leading up to the vote’s cancellation, it became clear that a vote for H.R. 3210 is a vote against U.S. jobs.

"It's tough enough and you throw something else at us where you are at a disadvantage because of cheap products that have been harvested illegally, and then it could cost jobs," said Mike Millard, owner of the Tennessee-based McMinnville Manufacturing Company. “We just want to make sure the playing field is level."

According to World Bank estimates, governments and businesses in forest nations worldwide suffer more than $10 billion in lost revenue each year due to illegal logging, and the U.S. alone loses approximately $1 billion. However, the Lacey Act has helped reduce these annual revenue losses and contributed to a reduction in the US trade deficit with China. Due to laws like the Lacey Act and the European Union Timber Regulation, Chinese firms are beginning to seek raw materials from sources where they can be certain of legality. In 2006, the United States ran a $20.3 billion deficit with China in forest products; in 2010, two years after the passage of the Lacey Act forest provisions, the United States actually ran a $600 million surplus.

Over sixty major forest products companies, thirty-five leading conservation organizations and labor unions, and over thirty top-selling musicians sent letters to members of Congress asking them to oppose any attempts to weaken the Lacey Act.

Even the proponents of H.R. 3210 feel the bill goes too far. Gibson Guitar CEO Henry Juszkiewicz opposes a key component in the bill that exempts all “non-solid” wood products, such as pulp, paper, and composites (at least 50% of all wood imports) from current Lacey Act requirements and one of its most important provisions.

“They threw it in,” Juszkiewicz said in an interview published this week in The New Yorker magazine. “I was upset. We’re attempting to get it out of the bill.”

And the bill’s lead sponsor, Rep. Jim Cooper, said the provision was added for purely political, rather than substantive, reasons. “We needed enough juice on the right to get it through,” he said.

Despite this progress, questions about the future of H.R. 3210 remain.

“Clearly, there is a lot of concern on both sides of the aisle about efforts to weaken Lacey through the RELIEF Act,” said Lisa Handy, Senior Policy Advisor with the Environmental Investigation Agency. “There was a reason that the 2008 Lacey Act amendments passed with strong bi-partisan support; combating the illegal timber trade is a non-partisan issue. It remains so. It is good for the environment and climate, good for development, and good for American jobs and national security.”

A broad coalition of stakeholders continues to work with Congress and the Administration to ensure the effective and smooth implementation of a strong Lacey Act that is not unduly burdensome on business.

Source: Climate Advisers

 

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