The autumn months are always busy ones in Washington, D.C. After returning from their traditional August recess, members of Congress are usually eager to get back to work. The fall of 2017 is also important as those up for re-election in 2018 work to show their constituents that they have been making progress and affecting the changes that voters want to see.
The Hardwood Federation is working on a number of issues on behalf of the industry during the final months of the year. Priority issues include the following:
Federal Forest Management
Meaningful reform of the U.S. Forest Service management of our national forest lands has been close in the last few years, but has never quite crossed the goal line. The Hardwood Federation is supporting H.R. 2936, which authorizes categorical exclusions to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and allows timber sales on federal lands to move forward more quickly. The bill would also provide a solution for the fire funding issues that have plagued the Forest Service and allow expedited environmental analysis, essentially an action versus no action decision, for certain collaborative forest activities on lands suitable for timber production or covered by a community wildfire protection plan. The Federation is strongly advocating for this bill to move forward and be taken up by the Senate.
In addition to supporting tax measures that help private forestland owners retain their lands as forests (and as a vital source of raw materials for the industry), the Hardwood Federation is also supporting measures that would help increase demand for sawmill residuals. Specifically, we are proponents of the Biomass Thermal Utilization Act (BTU Act), which would qualify high-efficient biomass heating systems that run on wood pellets or wood chips for the same investment tax credits (30 percent of installed cost) that wind, solar, geothermal, and other renewables get.
The heating systems can be whole home units or commercial heating systems. We are also supportive of the Community Wood Energy Program (CWEP), which provides grants to projects that install wood heating systems in hospitals, schools, community centers, and entire towns. Although CWEP is authorized by the Farm Bill, it has remained unfunded. We are working to change that and are asking for a funding level of $50 million annually to be approved.
Export Promotion Funding
The Hardwood Federation is a longtime proponent of full funding for the Market Access Program (MAP) and the Foreign Markets Development Program (FMD), both administered by USDA as authorized in the 2014 Farm Bill. These programs provide essential resources to support the development of foreign markets for U.S. hardwood and hardwood products. The American Hardwood Export Council (AHEC) receives funding from both programs allowing it to provide vital services to the hardwood industry in the form of hardwood export promotion activities around the globe. This fall, we are working to ensure that full or increased funding for these programs is included in the 2018 reauthorization of the Farm Bill.
Although President Trump signed legislation that recognizes the carbon neutral and renewable nature of forest-based biomass fuels, there is still work to be done to ensure that this language remains in perpetuity. The law enacted earlier this year that included the necessary language expired in September, and the Hardwood Federation and our allies are working with our supporters in Congress and the administration to move forward new language that will eliminate any chance of our victory lapsing.
These and other topics were discussion points for the annual Hardwood Federation Fly-In held in September. Fly-In participants did the important job of laying the groundwork for us to continue our work on behalf of the entire industry. We appreciate their support and the support of our great member associations, including the National Wood Flooring Association.
Dana Cole is Executive Director at the Hardwood Federation, a Washington D.C.–based hardwood industry trade association that represents thousands of hardwood businesses in every state in the U.S. and acts as the industry’s advocacy voice on Capitol Hill. She can be reached at email@example.com.