On December 17, Congress passed the Omnibus Appropriations Bill, funding nine federal agencies for the 2012 fiscal year. The bill includes language that stays NPDES permitting for silvicultural activities until October 1, 2012.
This represents a huge advancement in the forestry community efforts to seek a permanent reversal of this misguided decision—both from the legislative perspective. On a second front, the Supreme Court challenge of the Ninth Circuit’s decision made positive steps on December 17 when the Supreme Court officially asked the Solicitor General to explain the government’s position in the case, raising the odds of the Supreme Court hearing the case.
We will continue to follow this issue as it progresses through the legislative process and through the Supreme Court challenge.
Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal weighed in on the issue on December 9 by saying, “The interpretation (that forest roads are non-point sources) has been confirmed by two other circuits, but if the Ninth Circuit's wacky ruling is allowed to stand it will impose major economic burdens and a litigation free-for-all in the Pacific Northwest. No doubt some Supreme Court Justices are frustrated that they must keep playing janitor after the legal elephant parade that is the Ninth Circuit, but no one else has the authority. We hope the High Court takes the case.”
H-2B Wage Rule Averted
The H-2B Wage Rule would have increased wage guidelines for migrant guest workers brought to the United States under the H-2B Visa Program. The rates (which were to be effective January 1) would have been well above sustainable economic levels. The Proposed H-2B Rule also mandated worker wage guarantees, worker housing, and other provisions imposed on the tree planting industry.
However, this onerous ruling by the Department of Labor was delayed until October 1, 2012 in the same Omnibus Bill mentioned above. While not a permanent solution, Congress has prevented the imposition of $75.1 million (based on 2.5 million acres planted) in new costs on the country’s forest landowners in this planting season.
Boiler MACT—Seven Years and Counting
The EPA Administrator signed the re-proposals for the Boiler MACT, Area Source, and incinerator rules on December 2, 2011. The rules will be published in the Federal Register soon, with a 60 day comment period to follow. The new standards are said to be about 50% less costly than the original proposal.
These complex rules, that could seriously impact key end-users of private timber, have been under consideration for seven years. There is a unanimous opinion for all industries that the rules were poorly crafted and riddled with bad science. Wood products manufacturing associations are now cautiously optimistic about the new rules but are carefully considering the changes and are preparing additional data and commentary for the upcoming 60-day comment period.
FLA joined AF&PA in an October 13 letter to Congressional leadership urging passage of HR 2250 and S 1392—bills that would stay the rules, allow additional time for EPA to reconsider the rules, give facilities additional time to comply, etc.
American Forest & Paper Association President and CEO Donna Harman issued the following statement on Boiler MACT not being included in the year-end legislation to extend payroll tax cuts and jobless benefits.
“We are disappointed House and Senate leaders decided to not include legislation granting more time for EPA to produce achievable and affordable Boiler MACT rules.”
Legislation is needed to provide additional compliance time and to minimize the job losses that will result from these rules. The Boiler MACT legislation has strong bipartisan support in the House and Senate and we hope Congress will act quickly when it returns in January.”
Leave Estate and Gift Taxes Alone, Groups Tell Super Committee
As the lobbying blitz around the Super Committee continued earlier this month, a letter from the American Family Business Institute, also signed by FLA, went to members of the panel urging them "to leave any estate or gift tax increases ... completely off the table."
The joint letter stated that families and individuals are already having enough trouble planning how to pass on their businesses and farms and do not need any more uncertainty.
"The current gift tax exemption helps family businesses and farms shield their hard-earned assets from the nightmare of the estate tax," they wrote. "Moving to a lower gift tax exemption will force many business owners to return to the drawing board in designing their lifetime financial planning structure, diverting precious time and capital into compliance and away from investing back in their businesses and workers."
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