FRA Issue Update - 6/28/19

House Passes Spending Package that Includes Forest Service Funding

On June 25, the House passed an appropriations bill (H.R. 3055) that includes funding for the U.S. Forest Service. The spending package titled as H.R. 3055 – Commerce, Justice, Science and Related Agencies Appropriations Act of 2020 passed primarily along party lines by a margin of 33 votes (227 YEAS, 194 NAYS). The House approved amendments related to forestry including increasing the Forest Service timber program by $10 million, blocking funding of timber sales and road building on the Tongass National Forest and increasing funding for hazardous fuels preparation and fire suppression. The Senate has not taken action on appropriations as leadership continues to discuss overall budget numbers. Appropriations bills must pass and be signed into law by the end of September to avoid a government shutdown.

Forest Service Hosts Webinar on Proposed NEPA Changes

The Forest Service hosted the first of two informational webinars to inform interested parties about the proposed revisions to the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) regulations. The proposed rule will allow the Forest Service to manage forestlands in a more timely and efficient manner. Included in the proposed rule are several Categorical Exclusions (CEs) that would be used for forest restoration projects, road and trail management, and special use authorizations. The last update to the NEPA regulations was in 2008. The next webinar is scheduled for July 12 at 3:30-5:00 PM (EDT).

GAO Survey of H-2B Users

FRA continues to work with the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to assess the effectiveness of the H-2B visa program with forestry employers. The GAO interviewed FRA on this matter earlier in the year. If your company or the contractors you hire employ H-2B workers for forestry work, contact FRA for more information. The GAO findings will be available in the last quarter of 2019.

Senator Udall Introduces Renewable Electricity Standard Legislation—Biomass Defined

On June 26, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-NM), along with U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Tina Smith (D-MN), and Angus King (I–ME), introduced legislation  (S.1974) to achieve at least 50 percent renewable electricity nationwide in just 15 years. Included in the bill is a definition of renewable biomass that includes by-products of wood or paper mill operations, including lignin in spent pulping liquors, small diameter thinned trees, logging residues, or tops and limbs, and trees removed for purposes of ecological restoration. This legislation is among a number of bills introduced this Congress that define renewable biomass. FRA will be working with allied associations on how best to work through these multiple definitions of biomass being introduced.

DRIVE Safe Act Number of Cosponsors Grows

The DRIVE Safe Act (H.R. 1374, S. 569) has experienced growth in cosponsors over the last several weeks in both Chambers. Currently, in the House there are 91 cosponsors, which includes 17 Democrats. The Senate version of the bill now has 27 cosponsors, which include 3 Democrats and 1 independent. FRA and the DRIVE Safe Coalition will continue to work to build cosponsor numbers up to the August recess. The DRIVE Safe Act would allow drivers 18-21 to drive Interstate with an additional 400 hours of training. Passage of this legislation will increase the availability of truck drivers in the industry.  

FMCSA Seeking Comments to Expand Pilot Program for Young Drivers

Comments on a proposal from The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) on expanding a pilot program that would allow drivers 18, 19, and 20 years-old to operate a commercial motor vehicle (CMV) in intrastate commerce. This is an expansion of the CMV program specifically for 18-20 year-olds with military training that was published on July 6, 2018. Comments are due by July 15. FRA was supportive of the earlier expansion to approve military trained drivers. We are especially interested in hearing from our members in the insurance industry on this latest pilot program. Please e-mail Tim O’Hara, FRA Government Affairs Manager, [email protected], with your feedback by July 10, 2019.