WASHINGTON, DC -- In a letter to members of the House of Representatives, conservation groups, workers, and others blasted a bill introduced by Representatives Jim Cooper, Marsha Blackburn, and Mary Bono Mack that would gut the Lacey Act, one of the most effective forest protections on the books that bans import of illegally sourced wood, paper, and other forest products into the United States.

“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.

Among many other weaknesses, the legislation would completely exempt pulp and paper from the Lacey Act requirements, once again providing legal access to the giant American market for illegal foreign loggers. Pulp and paper represents a majority of forest product imports, and employs almost 400,000 people in 42 states with a combined $30 billion in annual compensation.

“Workers in the domestic pulp and paper sector have really been hit hard by illegal foreign competition,” said Roy Houseman of the United Steelworkers.

“The Lacey Act serves a critical purpose for our environment in helping to prevent illegal logging, but it also serves an important purpose for U.S. workers and businesses that have to compete with imports of products made from illegally-sourced trees. As our nation continues to struggle with high unemployment, the Cooper-Blackburn bill would only lead to additional job losses at America’s pulp and paper mills. These are good jobs, mostly in rural communities, that our members cannot afford to lose,” Houseman said.

Houseman previously worked at a mill in Missoula, MT that was shut down in part because of unfair trade practices which include overseas illegal logging.

Perhaps even more troubling, the Cooper-Blackburn legislation also minimizes the fines for “first infractions” to just $250.

 “This legislation puts out the welcome mat for foreign illegal logging operations and those unscrupulous operators who do business with them,” said Jake Schmidt. “Illegal logging is a serious crime that devastates rainforests and endangered wildlife around the world, and puts Americans out of work.”

 Cooper and Blackburn’s legislation comes following evidence that the Lacey Act is producing strong results on the ground. Chatham House recently reported a more than 20 percent decline in illegal logging globally. The Lacey Act was recently recognized as one of the world’s three most effective forest policies in the world at the United Nations. In addition to helping create U.S. jobs, the legislation has been hailed by rainforest nations who have requested developed nations’ help in stopping the global networks of illegal logging operations that are pillaging their forests. According to the World Bank, illegal logging costs rainforest nations approximately $10 billion annually in lost assets and revenues.

 The Lacey Act may also be contributing to the dramatic shift in U.S. trade with China in the forest products sector: in 2006, the United States ran a $20.3 billion deficit with China in forest products; in 2010, the United States actually ran a $600 million surplus.

 Letter signatories include:   Blue Green Alliance · Center for Biological Diversity · Center for International Environmental Law · Clean Air Task Force · Environmental Investigation Agency · Friends of the Earth · Global Witness · Greenpeace · League of Conservation Voters · Natural Resources Defense Council · Rainforest Action Network · Rainforest Alliance · Rainforest Relief · Saint Louis Zoo · Sierra Club · Sound & Fair · The Field Museum · The Madagascar Fauna Group · The Nature Conservancy · Union of Concerned Scientists · United States Green Building Council · United Steelworkers · Wildlife Conservation Society · World Wildlife Fund

 Source: Climate Advisors

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