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House Committee Votes to Allow Illegal Loggers to Pillage World's Forests

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Turning the Page on Rainforest Destruction: Children’s Books and the Future of Indonesia’s RainforestsToday, the U.S. House Natural Resources Committee voted to allow illegal loggers to undercut the Lacey Act by allowing them to pillage the world’s forests.  The vote was close as a bipartisan group of Representatives voted against the bill that would gut the Lacey Act.  Unfortunately, by a 25-19 vote too many House Members still took the side of illegal loggers that pillage forests around the world, utilize slave and child labor, decimate wildlife, drive deforestation that is causing global warming, and undercut American companies and workers. This bill by Representatives Blackburn (R-TN), Bono-Mack (R-CA), and Cooper (D-TN) -- offered by Rep. Flemming (R-LA) -- would gut the Lacey Act.  The Lacey Act has been playing a critical role in helping to stop deforestation and ensuring that American companies and workers that produce sustainable products can compete on a level playing field.

All the Democrats voted no, one Republican voted no, two Democrats and one Republicans didn’t attend.  For the list of Members that deserve thanks and which ones should go on the wall of shame see below.* 

The Lacey Act is a critical tool in combating global deforestation.  The premise behind the amendment to the Lacey Act is pretty straightforward -- it is illegal to import and trade in illegal timber.  Companies importing wood and wood products into the U.S. must verify that they are buying that material from legal sources.  So if a company imports wood from Brazil that wood must be cut, produced, manufactured, etc according to Brazilian law or it would be deemed illegal according to the Lacey Act.

The Lacey Act doesn’t cover every law in the exporting country.  The Act’s specific language, and legal precedent (this Act has a 111 year old track record), focus on “conservation” laws.  The law is also based on the premise that importing companies need to ensure that their supply chain meets the requirements of the Act.  So if you are IKEA, Home Depot, WalMart, or a maker of musical instruments that imports wood and wood products into the U.S. you must take the necessary steps to ensure that your suppliers are complying with the law in the country where the wood is sourced.  That is just common sense as no company wants to encourage illegal activity.

Bill that passed would gut the Lacey Act.  The Committee voted on a bill from Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), Rep. Mary Bono Mack (R-CA), and Rep. Jim Cooper (D-TN) -- the RELIEF ACT -- as amended by Rep. Flemming (R-LA). [Here is analysis of the implications of the RELIEF Act.]

The bill that passed would allow illegal loggers to keep their ill begotten gains, would eliminate the requirements of the Lacey Act for “non-solid woods” (e.g., pulp and paper) which is one the main sources of illegal logging, and would strip down what conservation laws would be subject to the law.  Despite the claims of its proponents, this modified version would still gut the Lacey Act.

Despite claims that the bill is aimed at protecting American business and not supportive of illegal loggers, the Republicans (with the exception of one) also voted against two amendments offered by the Democrats.  The first amendment (offered by Rep. Markey) would have restricted imports from countries that engage in drug trafficking, trafficking of people,and are state sponsors of terrorism.  Illegal loggers are often closely tied to illegal drugs, slavery and child labor, and terrorism so this amendment would have ensured that imported wood doesn't support these activities. The second amendment (offered by Rep. Garamendi) would not have the RELIEF Act go into effect if the Secretary of Interior and the Governors of timber producing states certify that the RELIEF Act is "negatively impacting employment" in the U.S. timber industry. Since the Lacey Act protects American workers against illegal activity, this amendment would have ensured that the RELIEF Act didn't lead to job loss in the timber industry. 

There is strong opposition to this bill from a diverse group of environmental, conservation, timber industry, labor unions, wood product users, and musicians.  While Representatives Flemming and Cooper claim that the RELIEF Act as amended by Flemming would address the concerns of environmental, industry, labor, and conservation groups that opposed the RELIEF Act, that is flat out not true.  More than 50 forest industry and wood product using companies stated in their letter of opposition to RELIEF and the Flemming Amendment:

“Illegal logging and the threat posed to U.S. jobs and forest resources by illegally sourced products throughout the world is being addressed by the Lacey Act, allowing our industry to compete fairly in the international market.  Please oppose H.R. 3210 (The RELIEF Act), H.R. 4171 (The FOCUS Act), the Fleming amendment to H.R. 3210, and other amendments that weaken and undermine the Lacey Act.”   

And as 36 leading environmental, conservation, and labor groups stated:

“On behalf of our millions of members and supporters, we urge you to oppose H.R. 4171: The Freedom from Over-Criminalization and Unjust Seizures Act of 2012 (FOCUS Act), and H.R. 3210: The Retailers and Entertainers Lacey Implementation and Enforcement Fairness Act (RELIEF Act), as well as any other amendments under consideration that would undermine the Lacey Act.”

Groups opposing include (for full list see: opposition letters from forest industry; environmental conservation, and labor groups; and musicians):

  • Environmental and conservation organizations: NRDC, Sierra Club, World Wildlife Fund, League of Conservation Voters, Greenpeace, Rainforest Action Network, The Nature Conservancy, Environmental Investigation Agency, 350.org, National Wildlife Federation, Union of Concerned Scientists);
  • Timber industry: over 50 leaders, including American Forest and Paper Association, Hardwood Federation, International Paper, Plum Creek Timber Co., and National Wood Flooring Association, etc.;
  • Labor unions: United Steel, Paper and Forestry, Rubber, Manufacturing, Energy, Allied Industrial and Service Workers International Union (USW), which represents the pulp and paper labor union, and the Blue Green Alliance);
  • Wood product users: Anderson Hardwood Floors, Maxwell Hardwood Flooring, Emporium Hardwoods, Shaw Industries Group, United States Green Building Council and Sound & Fair; and
  • Musicians:  Mick Jagger, Sting, Dave Matthews Band, Jack Johnson, Willie Nelson, Lenny Kravitz, David Crosby, Sarah McLachlan, Barenaked Ladies, Bonnie Raitt, and Bob Weir.                      

It is time to stand up against illegal logging and for American business, musicians that want instruments that are untainted, American workers, companies that want legal wood, and communities around the world devastated by deforestation.  This bill would severely undermine this critical law at a time when important progress is being made on addressing illegal logging.

So Members of Congress, companies, and musicians: it is time to take a stand.  Are you for illegal logging or do you want to stand up the destruction from illegal logging? Tell your Member of Congress to stand up against illegal logging and vote NO on the RELIEF Act.

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Image: Deforestation in Indonesia: courtesy of Rainforest Action Network under Creative Commons License.

* Voting no on the bill to gut the Lacey Act: Representatives Dan Benishek (R-MI), Edward J. Markey (D-MA), Dale Kildee (D-MI),  Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Grace F. Napolitano (D-CA), Rush Holt (D-NJ), Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ), Madeleine Z. Bordallo (D-Guam), Jim Costa (D-CA), Dan Boren (D-OK), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Ben Ray Luján (D-NM), Betty Sutton (D-OH), Niki Tsongas (D-MA), Pedro Pierluisi (D-Puerto Rico), John Garamendi (D-CA), Colleen Hanabusa (D-HI), Paul D. Tonko (D-NY).

* Voting yes on the bill to gut the Lacey Act: Doc Hastings (R-WA), Don Young (R-AK), John J. Duncan, Jr. (R-TN), Louie Gohmert (R-TX), Rob Bishop (R-UT), Doug Lamborn (R-CO), Rob Wittman (R-VA), Paul C. Broun (R-GA), John Fleming (R-LA), Mike Coffman (R-CO), Tom McClintock (R-CA), Jeff Denham (R-CA), David Rivera (R-FL), Jeff Duncan (R-SC), Scott Tipton (R-CO), Paul Gosar (R-AZ), Raúl Labrador (R-ID), Kristi Noem (R-SD), Steve Southerland, II (R-FL), Bill Flores (R-TX), Andy Harris (R-MD), Jeff Landry (R-LA), Jon Runyan (R-NJ), Bill Johnson (R-OH), Mark Amodei (R-NV).

** Updated 6/7/12 with information on the amendments that were offered to make the RELIEF Act less destructive.

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