Today, 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.