Forest Landowner Fall Update: Your Forest in Washington DC
This past June, the U.S. House passed the American Clean Energy and Security Act of 2009 (HR 2454) by a narrow margin. This bill creates a Renewable Electricity Standard (RES) which calls for a percentage of domestic energy to be produced from renewable sources, such as wood. Without endorsing the bill or an RES, FLA was successful in lobbying to have a broad definition of which forestland can qualify toward the RES. The bill uses the 2008 Farm Bill definition, which FLA originally authored in 2007, and is the broadest definition including “other plants and trees.” The bill also repairs the restrictive 2007 Renewable Fuel Standard biomass definition by replacing it with this same inclusive biomass definition, for which FLA actively advocated.
Why Is This Important?
Previous energy legislation and draft bills of the American Clean Energy and Security Act, excluded many types of private forest land. In some cases, 88-100% of American private forestland was excluded from participation. The inclusive House-passed biomass definition provides the opportunity for private forest landowners to participate in the new wood-to-energy markets, regardless of location or forest type. In many cases, private forest landowners desperately need new markets to keep their forests as forest. Outside forces, such as population growth and government regulation are putting great strain on America’s private forests. It is vital that government policies create opportunity for private forest landowners and remove obstacles so that they can continue to resist land-use change and development.
Now the U.S. Senate must take up the task of passing energy legislation this year. It remains unclear whether the Senate has enough support to pass its own version of the American Clean Energy and Security Act. FLA continues to lobby the Senate for the use of the forest biomass definition that passed in the House bill. FLA is optimistic that if the U.S. Senate passes any energy legislation, it could contain a forest-friendly, inclusive biomass definition, but the Senate must hear from the private forest landowner community. FLA will again be issuing important Action Alerts regarding this issue when the time is right.
Clean Water Restoration Act
The Clean Water Restoration Act is a bill pending in the U.S. Senate which would change the language of the existing Clean Water Act from “navigable waters” to “waters” of the United States. This change would drastically expand the jurisdiction of the Clean Water Act and create a situation where the Environmental Protection Agency could regulate any private property that has a seasonal pond or even a water-filled ditch. This change could mean federal permitting requirements for many forest management activities.
Why Is This Important?
FLA strongly opposes this bill, as it will go beyond the original intent of the Clean Water Act and become an immense burden on America’s private forestland. Additional costs and paperwork would exacerbate existing stresses on private forestland and facilitate land-use change.
Currently, this bill has passed the U.S. Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works and is awaiting a full vote in the U.S. Senate. In the U.S. House, Rep. James Oberstar (D-MN), the original author of this legislation in 2007, has indicated he plans to introduce this bill on the House side late in 2009 and work for a quick vote. Proponents of this bill are likely to wait for it to pass the House before working for a full vote in the U.S. Senate. FLA expects action on this bill later this year and will need the full grassroots support of FLA members to defeat it.
Currently, the death tax is set at a rate of 45% with a $3.5 million exemption. The tax is scheduled to sunset in 2010, but return in 2011 at a rate as high as 55% with a $1 million exemption.
FLA continues to advocate for the full and permanent repeal of the death tax. However given the political makeup of Congress at this time, it is highly unlikely to achieve full repeal. Therefore, FLA has begun to advocate for death tax reform, in a move toward repeal at a time when Congress is more likely to do so. Although the death tax is scheduled to disappear in 2010, the Administration and some in Congress would prefer not to see the tax “zeroed-out” in 2010 only to be re-imposed in 2011, before a Presidential election. Thus, there are movements and counter-movements to re-establish some form of death tax in 2010. The Administration seems to prefer a continuation of the current criteria (45% and $3.5 million exemption) for several years. Many proponents of repeal take an interim position of support for the proposal of Senators Lincoln (D-AR) and Kyl (R-AZ) of a 35% rate with a $5 million exemption. However, other proponents seek to maintain the current law of 0 % death tax in 2010 and try to reform the tax in 2011 when it returns at a significantly higher rate (55% and $1 million exemption).
Why Is This Important?
After a death in the family, many American’s wake up and are suddenly forest landowners. In many cases, the land they inherit has been in their family for generations. It is a working forest which employees numerous people and helps supplement local and state taxes. Unfortunately, many heirs are forced to sell the land for development, over-harvest, or convert the land to another use to help pay the hefty death tax bill they receive shortly after their family member has passed. This situation continues to aid land-use change and threatens FLA’s efforts to keep working forests as forest.
FLA expects Congress to begin work on the death tax later this year. FLA is currently advocating for the Kyl/Lincoln strategy detailed above.
National Forest Landowner Advocacy Day
All three of these important issues will likely be addressed by Congress this fall. This is why FLA is hosting the National Forest Landowner Advocacy Day on October 20, in Washington, DC. It is highly important to have a strong turnout of forest landowners, to help influence Congress and make sure they hear FLA’s message on these issues. All private forest landowners from across the country are welcome and needed!
To RSVP or for more information, contact Brendan Davis at (800) 325-2954 or firstname.lastname@example.org. You can also find addition information on FLA’s website.