With the midterm elections just weeks away, the Hardwood Federation is already planning how to work with likely future congressional leaders and committee chairs. This will help assure that the industry’s priorities remain front and center when the 118th Congress convenes in January 2023. This year’s election cycle seems to have more potential for change than most, with dozens of incumbents choosing to retire rather than hit the campaign trail this fall. That said, policy impacting our sector rarely is passed on a partisan level. Issue leaders and industry champions come in diverse political persuasions.
To leverage constituent and political capital, the Hardwood Federation concentrates its advocacy on key panels that have jurisdiction over the federal policies having the most impact on the industry. The following committees get the ball rolling on issues including tax, agriculture, public lands, environment, transportation, and appropriations:
- The House and Senate Natural Resources Committees
- The House and Senate Agriculture Committees
- The House Ways and Means and Senate Finance Committees
- The House Energy and Commerce Committee
- The Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
- The House and Senate Appropriations Committees
Fortunately, the Hardwood Federation has built strong relationships with congressional leaders on the industry’s major issues, regardless of party affiliation. The federation prides itself on bipartisanship, and we have long-standing, very positive communications, for example, with the current democrat leaders on key panels and their staff. That being said, if the chambers flip next year, we are looking at some pretty good supporters in key positions for our industry. To illustrate this scenario, look no further than the House Natural Resources Committee. This panel handles all of the forest policy, public lands, Endangered Species Act issues, and plays an active role in the carbon debate. Although the current chair, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-AZ), appears impervious at times to industry outreach, the ranking member of this committee is long-time industry champion Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR-4), the only forester in the House of Representatives.
It would be difficult to conceive of a better champion for our issues than Westerman, who has a considerable forest products and forestry presence in his district. Westerman, who would ascend to the chair if republicans take control of the House, has proven through the last few years that he understands the challenges our industry is confronting and the federal policy needs to help us be more competitive.
Neck and neck with Westerman as a prototypical hardwood champion is Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-PA-15), who would be the next House Agriculture Committee chairman.
Like Westerman, Thompson’s district is heavily forested and has a sizable industry presence. As we know, the agriculture committee is critical for us as we begin to write the next Farm Bill, which expires next year. There are a number of issues in play for us in the context of the Farm Bill – forestry, climate, wood products innovation, trade, and biomass energy. The Hardwood Federation has been working with Thompson for years on all of our issues, from the Northern Long Eared Bat to trade to biomass and everything in between. He knows us well as does his personal office and committee staff, and we welcome the opportunity to work with him and his teams should he ascend to the chairmanship. On the democrat side of the aisle, the Hardwood Federation has a solid relationship with current committee chair Rep. David Scott (D-GA). That said, the federation works especially closely with a senior democrat whom many view as an “up and comer” on the panel, Rep. Jim Costa (D-CA).
The other two panels that handle issues important to our sector are the Energy & Commerce and Ways and Means Committees. Regarding the former, Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-WA-5) would take the gavel should republicans pick up the requisite number of House seats in November. The Energy and Commerce Committee holds the pen on most of the EPA-related issues around air, water, and waste, as well as biomass energy issues. Rep. McMorris-Rodgers grew up on an apple farm in Eastern Washington state and has a strong familiarity with the challenges of the rural economy. On the all-powerful House tax writing committee – Ways and Means – Ranking Member Kevin Brady (R-TX-8) is retiring. There is a three-way race to succeed him, which will likely be won by Rep. Vern Buchanan (R-FL-16).
In the Senate, we are looking at a similar situation where strong supporters are in a position to take the lead (or serve as the top-level member from the opposing party) on committees of importance to the hardwood industry. The Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee illustrates a win-win scenario for hardwoods regardless of which party controls the upper chamber in January. Ranking Member Sen. John Boozman (R-AR) could take over from the current chair, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). While we work well with Chairman Stabenow and her committee team, our relationships with Sen. Boozman and his staff are equally strong. Sen. Boozman always has met personally with our fly-in participants each year and has proven to be a receptive ear to our issues and concerns. Again, this panel is critical for us as we head into another Farm Bill rewrite cycle and we are in a strong position however the election turns out.
Likewise, on the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME) could become the chair if the Senate flips. Sen. Collins has been the lead for the last several appropriations cycles in renewing the appropriations policy rider directing federal agencies to recognize forest-based biomass energy as “carbon neutral.” The Hardwood Federation has worked closely with her team on this issue, which is important to the entire forest products and forestry value chain. Sen. Collins grew up in the lumber business as her family owns and operates the S.W. Collins Lumber Company in Caribou, Maine.
One other committee of importance that may see a shift in focus is the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) might take over from current Chairman Sen. Tom Carper (D-DE). This committee has primacy on environmental issues as well as transportation policy. Sen. Capito has a keen understanding of hardwood industry issues and strong personal relationships with hardwood companies in the state.
Regardless of the election outcome, the Hardwood Federation will work with both sides of the aisle on behalf of the hardwood industry. The start of a new Congress is always a fresh opportunity to forge new relationships, strengthen old ties, and identify exciting opportunities. We look forward to 2023!
Dana Lee Cole is the 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 United States and acts as the industry advocacy voice on Capitol Hill. She can be reached at email@example.com.