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Hardwood Federation April 2020 Newsletter

From the Executive Director:  SPRINGing Into Action As Congress Sets to Return

Spring is here, even if some parts of the country are still experiencing some cool days and chilly nights. In D.C. the daffodils and tulips have bloomed, but due to the ongoing COVID-19 situation, most residents have not been able to enjoy them except for brief walks to and from essential errands and work assignments.  However, there are signs that we may be slowly moving beyond the worse of the virus and its devastating impacts.  The Senate is tentatively scheduled to come back to the Capitol on May 4…although they will be taking extreme safety and health precautions.  The House of Representatives originally thought they would return on the 4th as well, but have decided to delay until there is key legislation to consider.  How the daily business of the Senate will be conducted, committee meetings, voting, and public access to buildings and offices is still unclear.  Our thinking is that much depends on the status of the city as declared by the District of Columbia’s government.  As of now, most of the city’s government related business community is closed down or operating on a limited basis and employees are working from home.

I should note that the spread of the Covid-19 virus has not greatly impeded the ability of the Hardwood Federation staff to continue our efforts on behalf of the industry.  Our focus may have shifted to measures that will support hardwood companies during the economic shutdown and that will accelerate industry recovery once the nations goes back to work.

Administration and Congressional focus has understandably been on health and safety measures to prevent the spread of the virus.  As we have reported in previous newsletters, they have also taken a number of actions to support the business community and its workforce.  The latest development, a positive one for many in the hardwood sector, is that the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) has been refunded after available monies allocated to the initial program ran out in just two weeks.  However, the prognosis that this will be enough is doubtful; demand is high and funds are limited.  We will continue to support extensions of the program as long as there are industry members that could benefit from the PPP, as well other programs that will help hardwood companies survive the current difficulties and recover quickly when the crisis subsides.  There is a lot of talk about the potential for another major aid package….guesses about exactly what the package will include change on a daily basis although infrastructure and expanded funds for states seem to be in constant rotation.  As opportunities arise, we will certainly be working with our Congressional supporters to include measures that will support the hardwood industry.

To this end, the Hardwood Federation is also working closely with our allied associations in Washington D.C. to develop a common message for Congress about the entire wood products supply chain and its importance to the U.S. economy, its eventual recovery and the rural and environmental benefits of it continued healthy existence.  The American Forest & Paper Association, the National Alliance of Forest Owners, the Forest Landowners Association, the National State Foresters Association and our other wood products allies, may have slightly different perspectives and priorities for their memberships, but all agree that if the entire supply chain isn’t strong, we will all suffer.   We are pleased to be involved and are focused on ensuring that strong and lasting national and international markets for our products are part of the discussion.

It is still unclear when we will back to our pre-Covid existence, if we ever will return.  However, the Federation will continue to serve the industry to our best ability as we all try to navigate the new rules for advocacy.  The entire Hardwood Federation team hopes that you, your families and your employees are doing as well as possible during this truly extraordinary time.

Covid-19 Information and Resources

The Hardwood Federation’s focus is on federal assistance and support for those impacted by COVID-19.  However, state and local governments are also providing information and resources.  The Council of State Governments has a comprehensive list of state specific emergency orders, safety and health guidelines and financial assistance programs.  See what your state offers here.

Check for federal government resources.


USMCA – Will Officially Go in to Effect July 1st

On April 24th U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer formally announced that the United States – Mexico – Canada Agreement (USMCA) will enter into force on July 1st, 2020.  This comes as both Canada and Mexico have taken the measures necessary to comply with their commitments and the U.S. has officially notified Congress that it has completed its domestic procedures needed to implement the agreement. 

Ambassador Lighthizer went on to say “The crisis and recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic demonstrates that now, more than ever, the United States should strive to increase manufacturing capacity and investment in North America. The USMCA’s entry into force is a landmark achievement in that effort.  Under President Trump’s leadership, USTR will continue working to ensure a smooth implementation of the USMCA so that American workers and businesses can enjoy the benefits of the new agreement.”

Waters of the U.S. – New Navigable Waters Protection Rule Officially Published

Last week, EPA published its Navigable Waters Protection Rule (the replacement for the Obama Administration’s Waters of the U.S. rule) in the Federal Register; nearly four months after the Administration unveiled the regulation.   This action starts a 60 day clock before the regulation takes effect on June 22.  During this window of time, however, it is anticipated that numerous lawsuits will be filed challenging the measure.  The WOTUS rewrite represents a considerable narrowing of what are considered “jurisdictional waters,” or water bodies that are subject to federal protection under the Clean Water Act.  As such, the rule is expected to be challenged by numerous groups that it is insufficient to protect water quality and human health.  House Transportation & Infrastructure Committee Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) has been critical of the rule and is calling upon Congressional action to prevent its implementation.  While the WOTUS rule did not directly impact our hardwood mill operations, the issue is a focus of our forest landowner suppliers.  Concerns around WOTUS stemmed from the fact that any wet area on a forest parcel could be considered a “water of the U.S.” and subject the landowner to federal clean water act permits.  The Hardwood Federation will remain close to developments on this issue and will report in with developments.  

Timber Harvesting Contracts – Forest Service Grants Extensions for Timber Sale, Stewardship Contracts

In mid April, the U.S. Forest Service announced that holders of timber sales or Stewardship Contracts awarded before April 1, 2020 are eligible for up to 2 year extensions.  The Secretary of Agriculture made a finding of “Significant Overriding Public Interest” (SOPI) on April 10, after almost 40 forestry and forest products groups around the country sent a letter to the Secretary requesting these extensions.

The Federal Register notice announcing the SOPI noted:  “This SOPI will provide time needed for markets to stabilize and for purchasers and contractors to resume operations currently disrupted by these unprecedented global conditions,” the notice says.  It added that “Providing additional contract time during previous significant downturn market conditions has allowed timber purchasers additional flexibility to navigate the crisis and sustain long-term business viability, providing tools to support Forest Service land management goals and providing future employment opportunities,” and that the extensions can help sustain “economically viable, timber purchasers and contractors” which “increases competition for National Forest System timber sales, results in higher prices paid for such timber, and allows the Forest Service to provide a continuous supply of timber to the public.”

USFS Grants – Forest Service Awards $7.62M as part of the Wood Innovations Grant Program

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service has announced the awarding of $7.62 million in grants as part of the Wood Innovations Grant program, intended to advance innovations in wood products that create jobs, revitalize local economies and support sustainable forest land management.  A matching $131 million for the selected projects will come from businesses, nonprofits, universities and tribal partners.  In total the Forest Service received 103 proposals and selected 35 projects to receive grants.  You may read more about the grants and recipients in the News Release here.

Happening in the Hardwood World

World’s First All-Wood Stadium

A UK architecture firm has won approval to build the world’s first all-wood soccer (football to them) stadium.  Zaha Hadid Architects have designs to build the 5,000 seat future home of the Forest Green Rovers Football Club in Gloucestershire, England.  Check out the design and more details here.

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