WDMA Update

Supply Chain Issues
Congress Considers Reform of the Lacey Act
by Ben Gann

In August 2011, federal marshals raided three Gibson Guitar Manufacturing facilities in Tennessee for suspected violations of the Lacey Act, a law that requires end users of endangered wood to certify the legality of their supply chain all the way to the trees. The agents seized several guitars that were suspected of being made from contraband wood. In the aftermath of the raid on Gibson, increased public awareness of the Lacey Act’s shortcomings has motivated some in Congress to improve the law by eliminating its unintended consequences.

Protecting Wildlife
The Lacey Act was enacted in 1900 and was America’s first federal wildlife protection law. Originally intended to conserve and protect certain species of wildlife in the states, amendments to the Lacey Act over the last century, and most recently in 2008, have expanded the law to criminalize trade in protected species of plants and require compliance with certain foreign conservation laws.

Some American businesses applauded the government’s effort to end the illegal logging throughout the world. However, American importers of wood have faced significant uncertainty and costs from the 2008 amendments as they try to comply with the Lacey Act’s burdensome regulatory requirements. Those amendments to the Lacey Act affect all industries that import plant and plant products, including door and window manufacturers that use imported wood.

Under the Lacey Act, most plants or plant products being imported into the country must be declared by the importer at the time of import. If a product contains material from several different plants, of which the names of the species are uncertain, the law states that the declaration should contain the names of all plant species that could have been used to create the product.

Working Toward Reform
In the aftermath of the raid on Gibson Guitar, Congress proposed legislation making changes to the Lacey Act. The Retailers and Entertainers Lacey Implementation and Enforcement Fairness Act (H.R. 3210), or Relief Act, was introduced in October 2011, and addresses issues related to declaration requirements, penalties, reporting requirements and certification standards. Another reform bill, the Freedom from Over-Criminalization and Unjust Seizures Act (H.R. 4171/S. 2062), or Focus Act, would remove violations of foreign laws from coverage under the Lacey Act; eliminate criminal penalties for violations; reduce the power to issue warrants and make arrests under the act; and modify forfeiture proceedings.

Introduced by Reps. Jim Cooper (D-TN) and Marsha Blackburn (R-TN), the Relief Act seeks to make four changes to the Lacey Act. First, it would clarify that wood products assembled and processed prior to the 2008 amendment are legal to possess and sell. Second, it would give businesses and consumers a day in court to prove they complied with the law if their property is seized by the Federal government. Third, it would limit declaration to “solid wood” products (the agency enforcing the declaration already excludes many wood and plant products that are not solid wood). Fourth, it would restrict the application of foreign laws to those that are “directed at the protection, conservation and management of plants.”

Of the two legislative proposals to reform the Lacey Act, The Relief Act has a better chance of moving this year in Congress. On June 8, the House Committee on Natural Resources passed the Relief Act by a vote of 25 to 19. Support is building in the House of Representatives for the Relief Act and could come to the floor for a vote as soon as July (check dwmmag.com for updates).

Ben Gann is director of legislative affairs and grassroots activities for the Window and Door Manufacturers Association.

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