The Georgia Forestry Association (GFA) provides members with a direct connection to federal-level policy and regulatory affairs by connecting regularly with Georgia’s Congressional Delegation and by working through partners such as the National Alliance of Forest Owners (NAFO), Forest Resources Association (FRA), American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA), American Forest Foundation (AFF), and Forest Landowners Association (FLA).
By regularly serving on committees with partner organizations, working directly on issues, and supporting Congressional staffers, GFA is ensuring the voice of Georgia’s forestry community is heard. Below are a few of the policies and issues that GFA is monitoring of importance to members.
Sen. Ossoff Introduces Bipartisan Forest Data Modernization Act
The Forest Data Modernization Act of 2023, introduced by Sen. Ossoff and Sen. Bill Cassidy (R-LA), modernizes and improves the U.S. Forest Service’s Forest Inventory and Analysis (FIA) program to ensure reliable data is available to inform forest management decision making.
- Why this is important: GFA, GFC, and others in the industry have supported these improvements due to the increased economic opportunities for foresters and better protection for our natural resources. Click here to read and learn more about the bipartisan Forest Data Modernization Act of 2023.
— Ossoff’s Office (@SenOssoff) May 19, 2023
Supreme Court Rules on Waters of the United States (WOTUS) Definition
The U.S. Supreme Court recently ruled unanimously in favor of the Sackett family in the Sackett v. EPA case, effectively narrowing the jurisdiction of EPA to regulate waters under the Clean Water Act to interstate and navigable waters and immediately adjacent wetlands (read more).
- Why this is important: The decision narrows the reach of federal designations on water protections by asserting that the Federal Government can only regulate wetlands with a continuous surface water connection and the Biden administration will be required to rework its WOTUS Rule that went into effect in March 2023.
U.S. House Republicans Propose to Excise a Hefty Tax on Foreign Entities “of Concern” Purchasing U.S. Farmland
The “Build It In America Act” imposes a 60 percent excise tax on buyers of United States farmland when the buyer is a citizen of a country of concern or a private business entity that is 10 percent or more owned by a citizen or business entity domiciled in a country of concern. This move is the latest in a push to ban adversaries like China from purchasing U.S. farmland after recent reports of China’s land holding growing by more than 50 percent since 2019.
- What countries will be affected: The tax would hit buyers from China, Russia, Iran, North Korea, Cuba and Venezuela.
- Other provisions in the bill: The package would also roll back several clean energy tax credits introduced in the Inflation Reduction Act. It would, however, leave intact biofuel tax credits.
- What to expect: The Ways and Means Committee are slated to debate the bill Tuesday, June 13.
U.S. Senate Votes to Overturn Two Endangered Species Rules, Biden Responds with Vetoes
The Senate voted to repeal two endangered species rules that were implemented by the Biden Administration. The following are the joint resolutions passed; however, both measures were vetoed by President Biden, which brings any action on listing endangered species to a halt for now.
- SJ Res. 24 repeals the endangered species listing of the northern long-eared bat that went into effect on March 31, 2023.
- SJ Res. 23 repeals the Biden administration rule on what constitutes critical habitat for an endangered species. This rule expanded critical habitat to include those areas not occupied by the species and areas that, if restored, could become critical habitat. It has created a great deal of confusion in deciding what is or what could be considered critical habitat.
Safe Routes Act 2023 to be Introduced in the Senate
The Safe Routes Act of 2023 was introduced by Senator Ron Johnson (R-WI) on June 6. This legislation is identical to the Safe Routes Act introduced in the House by Congressman Mike Gallagher (R-WI-8) earlier in the year. Provisions of the Safe Routes Act allow trucks transporting logs, pulpwood, chips, or biomass access to the safer U.S. Interstate Highway System at legal state GVW.
- Why this is important: Research funded by the Georgia Forestry Foundation and the Forest Resources Association found significant safety and efficiency gains with the ability to haul higher weight on interstate routes (read more). In one route comparison in Augusta, the study found that by using the interstate route provided a 55% reduction in fatal crash risk, 43% reduction in travel time, 33% reduction in cost, and 49% reduction in pavement damage.
House Transportation Committee Votes to Advance Supply Chain Legislation
The House Transportation Committee looked at about 20 bills related to supply chain issues to get the bills on the House floor in the coming weeks. The bills that were under consideration to advance to the House floor included:
- HR 3372 allows states to opt into a pilot program that authorizes trucks weighing no more than 91,000 pounds and having at least six axles to use the Interstate Highways. The bill passed out of Committee largely on a party-line vote (33-27), representing an important first step toward creating safe and efficient ways to further streamline our supply chain.
- HR 3318 establishes a 10 percent axle weight variance for dry bulk materials. The legislation defines “dry bulk” as “any homogeneous unmarked non-liquid cargo being transported in a trailer specifically designed for that purpose, though it is not clear if this would include wood chips yet. This weight measure was also passed by the Committee and will move onto the floor.
- HR 3013, The License Act, streamlines the commercial driver’s license (CDL) process allowing individuals to earn their CDL quicker and more efficiently. This legislation simply makes two waivers that were issued during the pandemic to make the process of obtaining a commercial driver’s license (CDL) permanent. Before, CDL test takers had to take the exam in the same state where they received their training which made the process much less efficient. The Committee voted to have this bill be heard on the floor.
- HR 3408, the DRIVE Safe Integrity Act, addresses the workforce development needs of our trucking sector by creating an apprenticeship program for 18-20-year-olds allowing them to operate across state lines using the interstate once the program is completed. This bill will not be advancing to the floor yet but, is expected to be considered again, likely in September, during a markup of additional supply chain measures.
- HR 7348, the Strengthening Supply Chains through Truck Driver Incentives Act, did not pass by Committee vote but would authorize lucrative tax credits to new and existing truck drivers to attract more drivers to the profession and keep existing drivers behind the wheel.
Legislation Introduced to Reform Guestworker Visa Program for Forestry
On May 23, the Dignity Act, HR 3599, was introduced in the House as bipartisan legislation to provide a comprehensive fix to U.S. immigration policy. The legislation would create a pilot program that allows forestry employers to use the uncapped H-2A or the capped H-2B program. Currently, there is a Congressionally-mandated cap of 66,000 H-2B visas that is inadequate to meet the labor needs of seasonal businesses as demand exceeds the cap by two to three times.
Why this is important: The forestry sector relies on seasonal H-2B visa forestry workers when there are not enough available U.S. workers to fill these short-term, remote, and itinerant jobs.
- H-2B forestry workers plant more than 85% of the trees on public and private forestland each year. That amounts to the planting of 1.5 billion trees on nearly 2.2 million acres.
- The percentage of businesses that did not receive visas for all the H-2B forestry workers they requested doubled from 16 percent in FY 2019 to 32 percent in FY 2020.
EPA Proposes a New Rule for the Plywood & Composite Wood Products Manufacturing Sector
On May 18, EPA published its proposed National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP) rule for the Plywood & Composite Wood Products (PCWP) manufacturing sector, which includes emission standards for engineered wood products, lumber and pole kilns. Since the release of this rule, the Treated Wood Council joined the American Wood Council, Southeastern Lumber Manufacturers Association, and the Composite Panel Association in requesting a three-week extension to the comment deadline on the EPA proposed National Emission Standards for Hazardous Air Pollutants (NESHAP).
- GFA will continue to monitor these developments to keep our members informed.
FIFB Coalition Released Farm Bill Priorities
As the House and Senate hold hearings to determine the programs and initiatives to be included in the next Farm Bill, GFA has continued to support efforts on Farm Bill priorities for forestry. Most recently, the Forests in the Farm Bill (FIFB) coalition priorities were announced for the 2023 Farm Bill. This collation focuses on improving the Farm Bill forestry sections and consists of more than 70 forestry and conservation organizations. GFA, along with other associations, have attended meetings over the past year where the following FIFB recommendations were developed and discussed:
- Establishing regional forest industry workforce training hubs to support rural forest-based economies
- Expansion of wood innovation grants
- Improving the Forest Inventory and Analysis program
- Enhancing the Good Neighbor Authority to expand the ability of the U.S. Forest Service and the Bureau of Land Management to partner with states, tribes, and counties on federal forest restoration and management projects
Read More: FIFB Media Release
U.S. Considered a Global Leader in Marine Fisheries Conservation
The Global 30×30 initiative aims to protect 30 percent of the nation’s land, water systems and coasts to combat biodiversity losses. This initiative gained steam in the U.S. under the Biden Administration in 2021 and discussion on what is considered “conserved” has been ongoing. Last week, the U.S.’s eight regional fisheries management councils held a meeting where the Council Coordinating Committee’s (CCC) Area-Based Management (ABM) Subcommittee provided a report showing, through GIS data, that the U.S. has well exceeded the 30 percent goal for Coastal waters of the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone.
- Through the “America the Beautiful” program, the Biden Administration is developing the American Conservation Stewardship Atlas, which will establish a baseline for which lands and waters are considered conserved in the U.S. A draft version is expected to be published this summer.
- Click Here for the original article from Congressional Sportsmen Foundation
- Click Here for the full ABM Subcommittee report
- Click Here for additional details on the 30×30 Initiative
Eastern U.S. Suffering from Extreme Air Pollution Driven by Wildfires Raging Across Quebec
The smoke has spurred renewed calls for more aggressive efforts to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions warming the planet. And unlike with most climate-linked disasters, people in Washington D.C. are feeling this one firsthand. While the western U.S. is no stranger to catastrophic wildfires, this week’s episode marks one of the worst on record for the East Coast
Sen. John Barrasso from Wyoming, the top Republican on the Energy and Natural Resources Committee, called the presence of smoke “a sobering reminder that we must manage our forests to make them more resilient to catastrophic fires.”
- Join the conversation: GFA continues to promote modern-forest management and its impacts on the establishment of fire-resilient landscapes through the Georgia Forestry Foundation’s communications channels. See our latest post on the importance of forest management and healthy markets here.