Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to address the Forest Products Society Convention, which was held this year in Washington, DC. I discussed efforts in the U.S. House to support forestry producers and expand forest product markets, and took the opportunity to highlight H.R. 5873, the Forest Products Fairness Act of 2012, a bipartisan piece of legislation I recently introduced with Rep. Kurt Schrader (D-OR), which would open new opportunities for forestry producers by allowing their products to qualify for the U.S. Department of Agriculture's (USDA) Biobased Markets Program.
USDA's Biobased Markets Program was originally created to provide new markets for farm commodities and encourage consumers to purchase environmentally-friendly, biobased products. Unfortunately, as implemented under current law, most forest products are excluded from both the federal procurement preference and the market label of the USDA Biobased Markets program. H.R. 5873 would modify the definition of "biobased product" -- as defined in the Farm Bill -- to include U.S. forest products in the Biobased Markets Program, which would encourage the federal government to buy U.S.-made products, as opposed to foreign-produced, imported materials. This policy change would enable producers to qualify and market their products as "USDA Certified Biobased." The market effects of such designation have shown to be quite viable and there is no reason environmentally-friendly domestic products should not also be considered.
Additionally, I recently engaged the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC) President and CEO Rick Fedrizzi, urging changes to the treatment of forest products under the Council's Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system. LEED's rating system, which is widely used by building owners and operators to certify their materials and operations are energy efficient and environmentally friendly, recognizes wood only if it is certified to the Forest Stewardship Council's forest standard. However, three quarters of the domestically certified forests operate on different certification standards. As a result, the current rating system dissuades builders from using U.S.-made wood products that are ineligible for LEED certification, yet offer equal or great environmental and economic benefits. The letter encourages USGBC to broaden the number of eligible certification programs under the LEED rating system.
The forestry industry has encountered substantial economic losses over the last decade in part due to the slumping housing market. Additionally, our forests -- national, state and private -- continue to face great threats from wildfires and invasive species, despite the U.S. Forest Service spending approximately $2 billion annually fighting these disasters. I strongly support these efforts, but I believe we can be more proactive in addressing these threats through better land and forest management practices. We can begin to address these challenges by ensuring the producers have the right tools and resources to prevent them, which the House Agriculture Committee is working to provide under the upcoming farm bill reauthorization.
While these efforts are just several of many policy changes that will improve and expand production markets, we must promote better forest management, which is critical to the health and strength of the industry and our environment as a whole.