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2015 Policy Priorities
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Forest Landowners Association

2015 Policy Priorities

Following are the 2015 policy priorities approved by the FLA Board of Directors at the Winter Meeting in Washington, DC.  FLA believes these are the issues that will have the greatest impact on forest landowners and their ability to manage and make a profit from their working forests.  Additional, FLA recognizes that private forests landowners can play an important information and education role in creating a greater awareness of these issues among policy makers as their voting constituents.  FLA will work to ensure landowner representation at Congressional Town Hall Meetings and Federal Policy Field Hearings as well as serve as a resource to Congressional staff and federal agencies representatives at the local, regional and national level.

WATERS OF THE UNITED STATES

Congressional Action Needed: Require the EPA to Withdraw the Waters of the U.S. Regulation and Start Over

The EPA recently finalized its “Waters of the U.S.” (WOTUS) regulation. This regulation will place more U.S. bodies of water, including small streams and isolated wetlands, under the jurisdiction of the federal government. This will have significant impact on forest management and property rights across the country. The House has passed legislation. The Senate must act now to force the EPA to withdraw the rule and start from scratch.

 

What you need to know:

  • The final rule would give the EPA sweeping powers to regulate land use despite a Supreme Court law clearly prohibiting such overreach.
  • The refusal to clearly define key terms means that the agencies will have broad discretion to identify “waters”—and to limit the scope of most of the exclusions.
  • If WOTUS is allowed to become the law of the land, many forest landowners and their financial security will be directly impacted due to burdensome permitting and compliance fees.
  • In some cases, permits may be denied by the EPA for normal forestry practices in areas deemed Waters of the U.S.  But even if a permit is issued, violations of these paperwork or reporting obligations carry the same potential penalties as unlawful “discharges” up to $37,500 per violation per day and may be enforced by EPA, the state or even interested citizens groups.
  • Despite statements from the EPA, the final WOTUS rule is even broader than the proposed rule in a number of areas and creates even more uncertainty than before.

 

Worth Noting:

·      More than 230 organizations are on record in opposition

·      29 states have filed suites against the EPA for redefining WOTUS, asking for it to be declared illegal and for both agencies to draft a new rule.

o   Nebraska, Kansas, Missouri, Indiana, South Dakota, North Dakota, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Idaho, Montana, Nevada, Wyoming, New Mexico, Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina, Utah, West Virginia, Wisconsin, North Carolina and Oklahoma.

·      EPA has worked with powerful ENGOs to campaign for support of the rule, generating more than 1 million comments in favor of the Rule. 

·      EPA’s actions are considered illegal by Republicans and industry critics for violating anti-lobbying laws. 

o   The Justice Department has told federal agencies that they should not engage in substantial “grass-roots” lobbying.

o   Organizations are calling on House Members to support an investigation into whether these actions by the EPA violated the Anti-Lobbying Act. 

·      Sen. Inhofe sent a letter to EPA claiming U.S. Army Corps of Engineers did not receive the draft final rule until EPA submitted it to interagency review on April 3, 2015, and that the EPA did not fully considered the Corps concerns on technical aspects of the new rule.  Hearings in the House and Senate have been held on this issue.

 

Congressional Actions to Date: Several bills have been introduced in Congress to outright kill the WOTUS rule. Additionally, Republicans also attached provisions to fiscal 2016 appropriations bills that would prevent implementation of the rule starting Oct. 1.  

 

The House voted in May to overturn the new restriction while a Senate bill to do the same passed out of the EPW committee but has yet to be voted on by the Senate. The administration has indicated it will veto any such measure.

 

·      H.R. 1732, the Regulatory Integrity Protection Act, sponsored by Rep. Shuster (R-PA) passed out of the House in May. S. 1140, the Federal Water Quality Protection Act, sponsored by Sen. Barrasso (R-WY) and Sen. Donnelly (D-IN) passed out of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee. This bill must get to the Senate floor as soon as possible for passage and get to the President’s desk.

 

Key Messages:

·      Representatives – Thank them for passing H.R. 1732.  Click here to see how your Representative voted.

·      Senators – Encourage them to co-sponsor and bring S. 1140 to the Senate floor for a vote.

·      Both bills require the EPA to withdraw the regulation and start the process from scratch.

 

Issue Background:

Currently, the Clean Water Act authorizes the federal government to protect “navigable waters”. The EPA has been trying for years to enlarge its jurisdiction over “all waters” of the U.S., despite three Supreme Court rulings that narrowed the scope of their authority over U.S. waters. Under the guise of “clarifying” which waters are regulated by the federal government and which waters are not, the EPA has finally accomplished this goal by including many more waters of the U.S. under the Agency’s authority. Only Congress can change the scope and authority of the Clean Water Act. Congress needs to force the EPA to withdraw this damaging rule and start over.

Tax Provisions

Congressional Action Needed: Timber Tax Provisions Must Be Retained.  Congressional Action Needed to Make Tax Extenders Permanent

Though comprehensive tax reform is not likely to be enacted in 2015, key Members of Congress are still exploring the possibility of some limited tax changes. Lawmakers and their staffs must continue to be educated about the vital role that investment and timber tax provisions play in the nation’s economy as well as forests sustainability. Congress should oppose proposals that would repeal timber tax provisions.

 

In regards to small and family businesses, a host of tax extenders are bundled into two different versions of tax relief legislation. The Senate must pass its version of the Tax Relief Act and then the House and Senate need to work out the differences in the two versions and pass legislation sooner rather than later.

 

Congressional Actions to Date:

·      No viable comprehensive tax reform legislation has been introduced, but leaders of the tax committees (House Ways and Means and Senate Finance) have begun discussions on the outline of tax reform.

·      H.R. 636, America's Small Business Tax Relief Act of 2015 passed the House in May

·      S. 1946, was approved by the Senate Finance Committee in July.

·      Both bills included a number of expired tax provisions that will provide more certainty for forest stakeholders, coming one step closer to making key tax provisions permanent.

 

Key Messages:

·      Thank your House Representatives for passing H.R. 636.  Ask them to work quickly with the Senate on getting legislation passed in Congress to provide permanent tax relief.

·      Tell you Senators to co-sponsor and bring to a vote, S. 1946.  Ask them to work quickly with the House on getting legislation passed in Congress to make tax extenders permanent.

·      Remind policy makers that any tax reform must recognize common sense treatment of private forests and that it is vital to retain the current tax treatment of timber to preserve the economic viability and public benefits of private forest ownership.

o   The timber tax provisions recognize the treatment of private forests as a long-term investment in real property and address in a practical way the costs and risks of maintaining healthy forests.

o   The timber tax provisions help working forest owners create jobs, provide environmental benefits and help Americans reach financial goals.

o   Repeal of the timber tax provisions would adversely impact jobs, the economy, and public benefits.

 

Issue Background: While enactment of tax reform has little chance this year, the ideas promoted by House and Senate tax leaders will be on the table when Congress gets serious about moving tax reform. Members of Congress need to know that tax proposals that harm private forests landowners and timber are nonstarters.

 

Tax Extenders

It’s become almost an annual ritual around the winter holidays: Congress extends dozens of expired or soon-to-expire tax provisions on a temporary basis at the last minute, leaving forest landowners and related business scrambling with only a few days to take action to claim the deductions.  Both House and Senate leaders have stated that extenders should be made permanent and action should be taken this fall rather than waiting until December.  The House and Senate are expected to push a package of these extenders earlier than usual this year and to make them permanent, once and for all.

 

ESA and Species Listings by FWS

The primary focus and opportunity is on the regulatory side dealing with MDL  (mulitdistlistings.

 

Legislative Action: Both the Senate and House are focusing on ESA reform and are working on new strategies aimed at reforming the law and making specific changes to benefit the people that use the land imperiled species call home.

 

In the House, Chairman of the House Natural Resources, Cong., Rob Bishop (R-UT), has stated that focus will be on litigation and transparency, as well as boots on the ground conservation at the state and local level, where conservation awareness and expertise is at an all-time high.

 

The House has also dealt with the ESA outside of the usual committee of jurisdiction, by passing an annual defense bill that would force the FWS to remove protections for the lesser prairie chicken and the American burying beetle.  It would also delay for at least 10 years a listing decision for the greater sage grouse, which has become a rallying point for both supporters and opponents of the law.

 

In the Senate, a hearing was held in May that focused on nine bills that aimed to remove some species protections’, change the way the agency considers scientific studies or other tweaks.

 

Committee Actions

Recent focus of the committee has been on EPA’s lack of consultation with the Fish and Wildlife Service and the Army Corps of Engineers in regards to the WOTUS and Clean Power Plant rules and how they impact endangered species.  A hearing was held on July 29th titled, Lack of ESA Consultation During Power Plant Rule Process: EPA’s apparent failure to initiate consultation with the FWS on the rules’ impacts on endangered and threatened species, as required by section 7 of the ESA.

 

Regulatory Actions: On May 18, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service announced a proposed rule that would require petitioners to solicit information from relevant state wildlife agencies prior to submitting a petition to the Services, to include any such information provided by the states in the petition. If the state responds within 30 days with data, such as population counts or comments, these would need to be included with the petition when it’s sent to the federal FWS.  Currently, petitioners don’t need to provide any data, and state input comes later in the process, such as during the 12-month review that starts if the federal agency finds that listing a species might be warranted.

 

The proposal also would include changes to make the listing process more transparent to the public, more reflective of science and more responsive to voluntary conservation efforts. It also would do away with petitions for multiple species.

 

FLA joined comments spearheaded by NAFO submitted to the FWS regarding this rule.

 

The Proposed Listing of the Black Pinesnake as Threatened Under the ESA: The US. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) is proposing to list the black pinesnake (BPS) as threatened under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) with a proposed section 4(d) rule.   This ruling is vital to forestry stakeholders because it has the potential to set a precedent on forestry management restrictions not only for the BPS, but for all future ESA listings as well.  

 

Forestry stakeholders sent in more than 150 comments telling the FWS the importance of providing for flexibility for forest management under the 4(d) ruling for the BPS. Getting the BPS 4(d) rule language right is essential for forestry stakeholders. If the FWS does not provide more flexibility for forest management under this ruling it could trigger a deluge of unintended consequences in future ESA rulings.

 

In a stakeholder comments (attached) sent to the FWS on behalf of the forestry community, more than 30 significant landowners and key organizations convey the following regarding the proposed rule. 

 

The next action for the BPS is the final listing determination. FWS is required to publish that action by October 7th.  The final designation of critical habitat is not due until March/April 2016.

 

Issue Background: In an effort to improve implementation of the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) submitted to the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia, a multi-year listing work plan that will enable the agency to systematically, over a period of six years (2013-2018), review and address the needs of more than 250 species listed in the 2010 Candidate Notice of Review, to determine if they should be added to the federal list of endangered and threatened species. The multi-year listing work plan was first developed through an agreement with the plaintiff group WildEarth Guardians. 

 

Under the proposed agreement in the multidistrict litigation (MDL), the FWS is required to make initial petition findings for more than 600 other species. Meanwhile the environmental group is required to limit the number of listing petitions it submits each year and refrain from new lawsuits over missed deadlines related to the designation of endangered and threatened species until March 2017.

 

The Southeast Region of the FWS is faced with evaluating whether to list and place under ESA protection more than 400 at-risk species as a result of national, multi-district litigation and a mega-petition brought by environmental and conservation groups.  Of particular concern to forestry stakeholders in the 10 state-region are the more than 20 species that are slated for action by the FWS in the next two years.

 

Sustainability – Clean Power Plan Rule

Congressional Action Needed: For Congress to pass legislation clarifying the treatment of carbon emissions from forest biomass and provide a straightforward standard to account for emissions from biomass sources.

 

In June 2014, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) proposed the Clean Power Plan, an initiative that sets federal standards for states to achieve a 30 percent reduction in carbon pollution from the power sector by 2030. However, in considering sources of carbon emission, the EPA did not definitively address biomass. And while a non-binding EPA memo did indicate that the agency might consider biomass emissions carbon neutral, it has not codified any rules that would provide certainty needed for states or the forest products industry. . The proposed rule was expected reduce power plant emissions an estimated 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030.

The final regulation takes effect in August 2015, but states will have until June 2016 to draw up plans to implement the rule (although they can apply for extensions or get more time if they're working together on regional plans).

 

Congressional Actions: On June 30, Senators Susan Collins (R-ME), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), and 44 other Senators sent a bipartisan letter to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Gina McCarthy, Department of Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz and Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack urging recognition of forest biomass as carbon neutral in forthcoming policy. On July 31, Representatives Reid Ribble (R-WI) and Sanford Bishop (D-GA) sent a similar bipartisan letter signed by 154 Members of the House of Representatives supporting biomass as a sustainable energy source. 

 

Legislative Action: The Working Forests for Clean Energy Act (S.1284), introduced by Sen. King (R-ME) aims to clarify the treatment of carbon emissions from forest biomass and provides a straightforward standard to account for emissions from biomass sources. Under the legislation, provided that a federal analysis determines that national forest stocks are stable or increasing, biomass emissions would be considered carbon neutral. Additionally, biomass derived from mill or harvest residuals, or waste from forest management activities, would also be considered carbon neutral. The standard will provide certainty to states and the forest products industry, helping ensure that a diverse market for domestic forest products can continue while also safeguarding against the widespread harvesting of forests to create electricity without any regard to the sustainability of the stock.  No action by the Senate has been taken on S. 1284.

 

What you need to know:

·      Obama administration has vowed that US greenhouse gas emissions will decline 26 to 28 percent below 2005 levels by 2025

·      To achieve this goal the Obama administration has been issuing an array of new rules and regulations through the EPA and other executive-branch agencies, including a proposed CO2 emission standards for any new coal- and gas-fired power plants built in the United States. This rule, when finalized, will make it extremely difficult to build any new coal plants that don't capture and bury their carbon dioxide emissions, among others. 

·      None of Obama’s new rules have gone through Congress; most of it is being done under legal authority that the Supreme Court granted the EPA in 2007.

·      The Clean Power Plan is just one part of Obama’s climate agenda, which the EPA is finalizing and directly addresses carbon dioxide emissions from existing power plants.

·      Power plants account for 31 percent of US greenhouse gas emissions.

·      The Clean Power Plan is expected to have a serious impact on the electricity sector, reducing power plant emissions roughly 20 percent from today's levels by 2030.

 

What is the Clean Power Plan?

On June 2, 2014, the EPA proposed a new rule to reduce carbon-dioxide emissions from the nation's existing fossil-fuel power plants — the first of its kind.

Under the rule, the EPA will set different emissions targets for 49 states, based on their existing energy profile. (Vermont is exempted because it has no fossil-fuel electric plants.) Each state will then have to reduce their rate of emissions a certain amount by 2030.

 

When taken together, the EPA estimates these state plans will cut carbon-dioxide emissions from the nation's power sector as much as 30 percent below 2005 levels by 2030. (Power-plant emissions have already fallen about 15 percent between 2005 and 2013, so we're halfway there.)

 

States will have a lot of flexibility to pursue policies to reach their goals. They can use more efficient technology at coal plants, switching from coal to natural gas, boosting their use of solar or wind or nuclear power, or even joining regional cap-and-trade systems that require companies to pay to emit carbon-dioxide.

 

The final regulation will take effect in August 2015. States will then have until June 2016 to draw up plans to implement the rule (although they can apply for extensions or get more time if they're working together on regional plans).

 

 

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