Illegal logging in Madagascar. Photo courtesy of Climate Advisers.

Don Finkell, Anderson Hardwood Floors ceo, participated in a recent teleconference hosted by the consulting firm Climate Advisers against H.R. 3210, the Retailers and Entertainers Lacey Implementation and Enforcement Fairness (RELIEF) Act. According to opponents of the proposed legislation, passage of the RELIEF Act would significantly weaken amendments to the Lacey Act passed in 2008 that are designed to combat trafficking in illegal logging.

“We view the Lacey Act as good for U.S. business, and we do not support any efforts to weaken it,” Finkell said. “The illegal logging issue is an area of competitiveness we face. It’s just hard to compete with people who don’t pay a fair price for their wood.”

Part of the proposed bill states, “In the case of a plant product that is derived from a tree, a declaration … is not required to include information … unless the plant product is solid wood.” (The full text of the RELIEF Act is available Opponents say this measure would remove paper, plywood, pulp, furniture and musical instruments, among other products, from enforcement under the Lacey Act. They are also against language that would make a first offense “a civil penalty … of not more than $250.”

“It excludes the pulp and paper industry from being regulated, and that is a major oversight in the way the bill has been drafted,” noted Roy Houseman, legislative assistant for United Steelworkers, a group which also represents pulp and paper workers. “The pulp and paper industry is a significant economic engine, and the way this bill is written would exclude foreign companies from having to follow the same standards as U.S. producers.”

Jake Schmidt, international climate policy director for the environmental group Natural Resources Defense Council, said the bill would “undermine very core provisions, including enforcement tools, seizure tools and what kind of products have to be covered in this act.”

According to Andrea Johnson, forest campaigns coordinator for international campaigning group the Environmental Investigation Agency (EIA), a less powerful Lacey Act could lead to more illegal logging. “Illegal logging is a problem that drives massive deforestation and habitat lost. It has also been documented as destroying the homes of endangered species. It causes social conflict and promotes corruption, robbing the government and the people of the ability to control and harvest the benefits from [responsibly managed] forests,” she said.

Jameson French, Northland Forest Products president and ceo, added that amendments to the Lacey Act have positively changed the way many countries fundamentally conduct their forestry business. “It has been a great thing for the world’s forests and American industry. Because of this Act, we have [more] legal, low-risk and sustainable forests.”

The bill was created partly because “The 2008 [Lacey Act] amendments were overly broad and their enforcement as enacted could criminalize actions of a good-faith owner, purchaser, or retailer of a plant or plant product, subjecting them to penalties that include forfeiture, fines, and imprisonment,” according to language in the proposed bill.

At press time, the bill had been referred to the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans, and Insular Affairs, part of the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources.