September 14/21; Volume 30/Number 7
By Ken Ryan
Hardwood flooring leaders representing the Hardwood Federation and National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) met with lawmakers in Washington over a two-day span this month to discuss critical business issues.
Don Finkell, CEO of American OEM and immediate past chairman of the Hardwood Federation, a lobbying group, told FCNews there were three issues addressed: reform of the U.S. Forest Service, White Nose Syndrome’s destruction of the Northern Long Eared Bat and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) listing of biomass as carbon neutral.
“This was the most successful ‘fly-in’ we have had, surpassing last year which was the previous best,” Finkell said.
He explained the group had 100 meetings on Capitol Hill with members of the House and Senate. They targeted Senate leaders “because our major legislative agenda is reform of the U.S. Forest Service which has passed the House and is now in the agriculture committee in the Senate. We met with half of the Senate offices. Two thirds of our meetings were with the members themselves. The other third was with their legislative staffs.”
In addition to the official meetings, the hardwood flooring group hosted two receptions, which were attended by 50 members of both major political parties.
Regarding these pressing issues, Finkell said the portion of the Forest Service budget consumed by fighting forest fires has increased from 13% in 1991 to over 50% in 2015. “This crowds out most funding for federal forest management activities. The Hardwood Federation would like to see more timber harvested from federal forests. It brings more hardwood supply to our industry, more revenue to the U.S. Treasury, and it reduces the fuel load in forests, which reduces the frequency and severity of future fires. The incidence of forest fires has increased proportionally to the reduction in timber harvests in the last 25 years.”
The Hardwood Federation continued its lobbying efforts to get the Northern Long Eared Bat listed as “threatened” instead of “endangered.” Millions of bats have been dying as a result of a disease known as White Nose Syndrome (WNS) and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is proposing permanent restrictions on timber harvesting as a result. The service is calling for restrictions within ¼ of a mile of caves and seasonal restrictions within ¼ of a mile from dead tress. “These restrictions are not warranted given that there is no correlation between bat mortality and timber harvesting,” Finkell said. “Bats are dying because of WNS; stopping timber harvest will not save any bats. Only a cure for WNS will save the bats and that is where serious effort needs to be directed.”
Finkell noted the final issue addresses “the failure of the EPA” to treat biomass as a green energy. He explained that forest and hardwood mill residuals (sawdust, bark and wood waste) are routinely burned in advanced, pollution-controlled boilers to make process steam that is used primarily to dry wood lumber and veneer. The alternative to burning residuals is to landfill them and make steam with natural gas, a fossil fuel. “The Hardwood Federation wants the EPA to clearly say that biomass is a carbon- neutral fuel. Not being able to burn residuals for energy severely affects the competitiveness of our industry and will be an unnecessary burden on local landfills.”
Among those in attendance were Finkell; Michael Martin, president and CEO, NWFA; Rick Holden, COO of Derr Flooring; Tommy Maxwell, owner of Maxwell Hardwood Flooring; Harry Bogner, senior vice president of hardwood, Unilin; Dana Cole, executive director of the Hardwood Federation; and Allie Finkell, vice president of administration, American OEM.
Martin said he continues to be encouraged by the reception members receive during the fly-ins. “It’s an outstanding opportunity to educate them about the important issues that impact our members. It also helps us to build strong relationships with those representatives that can have a significant impact on our industry.”