Name an environmental law strongly supported by both Republicans and Democrats, America’s timber industry, purchasers of wood products, labor unions, and environmental organizations. Stumped? Actually there is such a law. It’s called the Lacey Act — which has an important provision to stop imports of illegal wood and wood products into the U.S. This law is a critical tool in efforts halt deforestation, it protects American jobs, and helps establish rule of law in developing countries.
The Lacey Act, last amended in 2008, is drawing fresh debate because federal agents this past summer raided Gibson Guitar Corp., factories in Memphis and Nashville, Tennessee to investigate whether the firm used illegally imported wood from India, which would be a violation of the act. Gibson also is under investigation for allegedly importing illegally logged wood from Madagascar in 2009. Until these cases are resolved, it behooves everyone to reserve judgment. Some are using this recent controversy to undermine this Act. This should be resisted.
A common sense law. The premise behind the amendment to the Lacey Act is 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.
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. While many would like to define exactly what kinds of laws to comply with, the authors (and its supporters) agreed that the U.S. can’t define what exact conservation laws in another country should be complied with.
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 companies choosing to import wood and wood products into the U.S. must take the necessary steps to ensure that their suppliers are complying with the law in the country where the wood is sourced.
There is bipartisan support for the Lacey Act’s effort to address illegal logging. This is an important law which passed with bipartisan support in the 2008 Farm bill. The amendment was introduced by Rep. Blumenauer (D-OR), Sen. Wyden (D-OR), Sen. Alexander (R-TN), Rep. Weller (R-IL), and Rep. Wexler (D-FL). The amendment unanimously passed the House Committee on Natural Resources in October 2007 and passed the Senate in December 2007. It became law in May 2008 as a part of the 2008 Farm Bill. When the amendment passed it received strong endorsements from leading Members of Congress including Sen. Alexander (R-TN) and Rep. Blumenauer (D-OR).
The law has strong support from a variety of leading organizations including*: environmental and conservation organizations, timber industry, forest product users, and labor unions. (For a full list of supporters see below*). There are several reasons why this diverse coalition supports the Lacey Act’s effort to address illegal logging.
Protects jobs. Illegally-sourced foreign wood and wood products coming into the U.S. undercut the domestic market. This hurts American lumber companies that play by the rules, forcing them to compete with illegal overseas operations that log in national parks, evade taxes, and sometimes even use slave and child labor – a point recently highlighted by Rep. Blumenauer and Jameson French, the CEO of Northland Forest Products, in an op-ed. The Lacey Act creates an even playing field by preventing the market from being flooded by an illegal supply – a problem which industry research estimated costs the U.S. wood products sector $1 billion annually. The U.S. timber industry saw that dynamic and was a key voice in support of this amendment. Likewise key labor unions were strong champions of the amendment.
Protects the environment. Deforestation in the tropics is a major contributor to global warming, loss of biodiversity, and other environmental damages. Estimates show that about 40% of all logging in the tropics comes from illegal logging – with some countries as high as 60-70%. As a result, efforts to address this environmental damage have focused on stopping illegal logging as one powerful tool to stop tropical deforestation. The Lacey Act is an important tool in helping stop this destruction.
Helps countries establish rule of law and crackdown on corruption. For many countries, the forests are the frontline in efforts to address corruption and criminal syndicates. The profits from illegal logging are often used to undermine basic rule of law in the developing world. Stories from Indonesia, Malaysia, and elsewhere highlight the connection between illegal logging and corruption. After all, the best way for illegal loggers to ensure that they can continue to profit is if they ensure corruption in the ranks of the police, prosecutors, and judges.
This is an important law, supported by diverse groups which must not be undermined. Global deforestation is a major environmental, social, economic, and legal challenge in the developing world. The amendment to the Lacey Act passed with bipartisan support in 2008, is strongly supported by a diverse group, and is a powerful tool in efforts to stop the destruction of the world’s forests.
We need to strengthen the Lacey Act and extend this type of program to other countries, not weaken it.
* Supporters include (according to letters in support of the Act – here and here – or public statements – see links): American Forest and Paper Association, Center for International Environmental Law, Conservation International, Defenders of Wildlife, Dogwood Alliance, Environmental Investigation Agency, Forest Ethics, Forest Stewardship Council, Friends of the Earth, Global Witness, Greenpeace, Hardwood Federation, International Brotherhood of Teamsters, International Paper, Lowe’s Home Improvement, Martin Guitars, Natural Resources Defense Council, National Hardwood Lumber Association, Rainforest Action Network, Rainforest Alliance, Sierra Club, Society of American Foresters, Sustainable Furniture Council, Taylor Guitars, The Nature Conservancy, Tropical Forest Trust, United Steelworkers (which represents 100,000 pulp and paper workers), Wildlife Conservation Society, Williams and Sonoma, and World Wildlife Federation.
**Photo courtesy: Environmental Investigation Agency.