Issue Update 1/18/19

Today marks Day 28 of the partial federal government shutdown. Congressional leadership has cancelled the scheduled recess for next week to ensure that principals are in town should negotiations materialize. The Administration and Congressional Democrats remain far apart in their position on border security. The House has been approving appropriations bills to reopen those portions of the federal government for which funding has lapsed, but these proposals will not move in the Senate without a signal from the President that he will support them.

Biomass

House Democrats yesterday unveiled a package of appropriations bills that would fund certain government agencies—including EPA and the Department of Interior—through September 30, 2019. The proposal is similar to measures that the House has already passed. Notably from FRA’s perspective, the package includes a provision directing EPA, USDA and DOE to recognize the carbon neutral nature of forest-based biomass energy. Recall that the forestry and forest products sector successfully enacted this directive a couple of years ago, but since it became law as part of a government spending bill, it must be renewed. FRA and our coalition partners have been working Congress to try to secure permanency for this provision. Thus far we have been unsuccessful, but have prevailed in reauthorizing our carbon neutrality directive each appropriations cycle.  

Other notable provisions of the bill—H.R. 648—include:

  • Forest Service Funding:  An increase of $28 million above than the 2018 enacted level and $864 million above the President’s budget request.
  • Prohibits funding for the Fish and Wildlife Service to write or issue a proposed rule to list the greater sage-grouse under the Endangered Species Act

Again, assuming this proposal passes the House, its prospects in the Senate are grim as long as Administration opposition persists.  

Biomass 101

FRA has joined AF&PA and AWC to continue to fund the Biomass 101 effort to address misrepresentation of the use of forest based biomass as a renewable. We anticipate more activity this year with the change in Congress and with that attempts to redefine renewable energy. Of particular note is the revival of a House Special Committee on Climate Change which Rep. Kathy Castor (D-FL) will lead. Recently, the Wall Street Journal featured a policy statement signed by a number of economists and former Republican and Democrat officials extolling the virtues of a carbon tax. So the issue is certainly receiving more attention and our opponents never miss an opportunity to demonize forest based biomass combustion in the context of this issue. For more information about Biomass 101 click here.

Federal Forestry

Last evening, the House passed a 3 week stopgap funding measure offering a temporary solution, along with more than $14 billion in disaster aid by a vote of 237-187. Included in the package were two amendments related to forest management. The first proposal, by Rep. Chris Stewart (R-UT), would add $21 million for hazardous fuels reduction efforts. The second, by Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-AR), would increase funding for state and private forestry programs by $10 million.

In a statement, Rep. Stewart indicated that funding is designed to improve forest resilience and to prevent new fires from starting. 

Rep. Westerman's provision is vague on how the state and private forestry funds would be spent, but he spoke about the wildland-urban interface in a speech on the House floor and noted that many of those areas are in the eastern U.S. as well as the West and that over half of the country’s forestland is privately owned.  

The Forest Service this week provided guidance to Regional Foresters that allows “new” timber sales to be offered by the Forest Service during the shutdown. The continuation of timber sales during the shutdown critical to meet FY2019 timber program targets.

Labor Secretary Calls for Guest Worker System Overhaul

The Wall Street Journal, today, published an article about the current deficiencies in the process used to obtain visas for seasonal workers. Labor Secretary Alexander Acosta cited the recent crash of the system when it was overwhelmed by H-2B visa requests on January 1. The DOL received 3 times as many requests than available guest worker visas. Acosta stated that he would prefer Congress to act and set a number for guest worker visas as opposed to the current method of a lengthy rulemaking process that is often not timely for the businesses seeking seasonal guest worker visas.