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Reform needed over wood product certification

Reform needed over wood product certification 
By Oregon Small Business Association

Oregon’s federal lawmakers have taken a strong stand against China’s unfair and manipulative trade practices that have made its government-subsidized wood and paper products artificially cheap in the U.S. market. Chinese firms are also reaping huge profits from illegal logging.

“American manufacturers can’t compete when the deck is unfairly stacked against them,” Congressman Peter DeFazio said, in support of a Congressional investigation of Chinese plywood manufacturers. “We cannot afford to allow China to get away with manipulative trade practices that hurt American companies and cost us jobs.”

Our representatives should be applauded for this effort. While they’re at it, they should take a closer look at the bigger picture in how current regulations in the U.S. undermine the domestic wood products market and threaten jobs in the timber industry, to the advantage of producers of timber overseas.

The U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) recognizes the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) to the exclusion of all other forest certification programs. The USGBC requires FSC-certified wood to be used in commercial and government construction programs that covet its LEED green building stamp of approval. However, there exists another 50 or so competing standards worldwide that certify forestland. The USGBC has resisted all efforts to open up LEED to any of these credible alternatives.

The USGBC’s obstruction of green markets has far-reaching effects for domestic timber production and employment. Some 75 percent of wood and paper products in North America utilize a different certification program than FSC. In Oregon, the nation’s leading timber state, there are only 243 “valid” FSC certificates for woodlands. By comparison, other credible standards that advance sustainable forests in Oregon include the Sustainable Forestry Initiative (3.2 million acres certified in Oregon) and American Tree Farm System (900 Oregon tree farms recognized).

The FSC standard for the United States carries much more stringent requirements than those imposed on some developing countries across the world, many of which have poor environmental and trade records for timber products. Builders or government agencies specifying green products may shun U.S. goods recognized by the Sustainable Forestry Initiative or the American Tree Farm System to satisfy LEED requirements, and use wood imported from foreign countries, since 90 percent of FSC wood comes from nations outside of the United States.

The USGBC’s standards, which are enforced by government agencies across America, further depresses the Oregon timber industry and kills jobs at a time when companies are still struggling after navigating volatiles markets and ongoing battles with environmental groups that see logging as an unmitigated evil. Some of Oregon’s rural counties are in desperate straits with high unemployment and reduced public revenues.

That is why governors from Oregon and 11 other states sent LEED letters urging the organization to recognize “all credible standards” in 2009. Montana Governor Brian Schweitzer wrote that under proposed LEED benchmarks, “bamboo from China and Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified wood from Russia and Brazil would be certified, whereas Montana wood would not. I am confident Montana’s environmental protections exceed those of China and Russia.”

Citing a 2010 report by the U.K’s Chatham House think tank, Laurence says that from 2000 to 2008, China imported 16-24 million cubic meters of illegal timber each year. How much Chinese wood is finding its way into U.S. green building projects under LEED? Would the Chinese ever admit it?

Organized labor has also had enough of this shameful situation. And well it should since, according to federal statistics, logging employment has declined nationwide by 39 percent or nearly 31,000 jobs since 2000. William V. Street Jr., the director for the Woodworkers Department of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers advocates a more inclusive certification process – one that also spurs job creation. “What is critical to our members is that forests be managed in such a way as to ensure their long-term survival and viability while at the same time promoting thriving rural communities, safe jobs, and decent work,” he said. “From this perspective, SFI has several advantages for workers that FSC does not.”

It is time for the green building industry and federal, state and local government agencies to reject the FSC monopoly on certified wood products. We can protect our forests, spur economic growth and build in an environmentally responsible way by promoting a level playing field.