Well, it is September and at the end of this month a new fiscal year will begin for the government of the United States of America. When the American Loggers Council and its many allied associations around the country look back on fiscal year 2012, we can be proud of the many legislative accomplishments of the nation’s forest products industry. Substantive bills have progressed through authorizing committees and several important measures were successfully placed on the Interior Appropriations Bill that would help our struggling industry and represent small, but important, steps toward improved management of the nation’s forests. But, is this cause for celebration? Unfortunately, the answer is a resounding “NO” because Congress is not functioning as it was intended by the founding fathers. Something must change!
Let’s look at some of our significant legislative initiatives of the past year. H.R. 2541 the Silvicultural Regulatory Consistency Act would amend the Clean Water Act in a manner that makes it perfectly clear that all forest management activities are exempt from the NPDES permitting requirements for point sources of pollution. It would effectively reverse the Ninth Circuit Court’s decision to the contrary. It was approved and passed out of the House Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure.
Substantive legislation to redirect the management of our federal forests and to reconnect the funding or rural counties to the management of surrounding forests was introduced, heard by committees and even approved for floor votes. Not the least of which was H.R. 4019 the County, Schools and Revenue Trust for the National Forest System Act introduced by the Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee Doc Hastings (R-WA). It passed his committee and awaits floor action. Similar legislation was introduced by Idaho Congressman Raul Labrador and Wyoming Senator John Barrasso and Oregon Congressmen Walden, DeFazio and Schrader. All are good legislative measures. All are stalled in congressional gridlock.
A terrible fire season produced a number of legislative initiatives to restore healthy forests and to expedite the salvage of forests destroyed by catastrophic fire. Legislation was introduced by members of Congress from Colorado, Arizona and even Massachusetts to address this growing concern. Each was the subject of a hearing in the House Natural Resources Committee. Each is awaiting further action.
The House of Representatives actually passed the Interior Appropriations bill to fund the Forest Service, Bureau of Land Management and a number of other natural resource management and regulatory agencies. It had good stuff in it. While it would cut the budgets for most agencies, most notably the Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, it increased funding for forest management and hazardous fuels reduction. It included provisions authorizing the use of “designation by description” for timber sales; it exempted Categorical Exclusions from administrative appeals; it would allow continued use of the 1982 Forest Planning Rule rather than the disastrous new rules recently approved for use; it would give states the ability to invest in the management of federal forests through an expansion of the “Good Neighbor Authority” currently limited to the State of Colorado; and it would have provided relief from implementing the Ninth Circuit Court’s decision on Clean Water Act permits for forest road use. All great ideas, but this bill will not be heard in the Senate. Our nation will be funded by a Continuing Resolution until next March.
The House Agriculture Committee approved a new Farm Bill that included many provisions important to our industry. Richard Schwab from Florida represented ALC in presenting testimony before a subcommittee addressing biomass provisions in the bill. The committee-passed bill included an extension of Stewardship Contracting authority through 2017; it expanded the “Good Neighbor Authority” nationwide so states could invest in fuel reduction projects on the national forests; it expanded to 10,000 acres the designation of “critical areas” for special expedited treatment; and it authorized the hiring of Forest Service retirees for technical expertise. It is waiting for floor approval.
These are all accomplishments for which the forest products industry should be proud. But, to borrow a football analogy, getting the ball into the red zone without crossing the goal line keeps the score at zero. The failure is not because of a lack of effort on our part. The failure is the product of a legislative institution that has become dysfunctional. It is one that has not passed a budget since President Obama was elected. It includes a Senate that refuses to even consider ideas produced by the House. It is one that is void of a cohesive partnership between the two bodies. It is one that gets no leadership from the Executive Branch of our government. It is one that is begging for change.
Jim Geisinger is the Executive Director for the Associated Oregon Loggers, Inc. and Chair of the American Loggers Council’s Legislative Committee.
The American Loggers Council is a non-profit 501(c)(6) corporation representing professional timber harvesters in 30 states across the US. For more information, visit their web site at www.americanloggers.org or contact their office at 409-625-0206.