Press Release: May 8, 2012
MUSICIANS, CEOS, AND FORMER BUSH ADMINISTRATION OFFICIALS OPPOSE EFFORTS TO WEAKEN LACEY IN HIGH PROFILE HEARING
Deborah Lapidus, email@example.com, 703-967-5741
Alexandra Stark, firstname.lastname@example.org, 609-923-8967
May 8, 2012— A unique alliance of musicians, former Bush administration officials, and forest products industry executives provided testimony for a congressional hearing today in support of the U.S. Lacey Act and in opposition to two controversial proposed bills to weaken the law. Held by the House Natural Resource Committee’s Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs, the hearing addressed H.R. 3210 (Cooper), the so-called “RELIEF” Act, and H.R. 4171 (Broun), the “FOCUS” Act.
Witnesses in support of keeping Lacey strong and in opposition to the proposed bills celebrated the myriad job-saving, economic, social and environmental benefits of the law. Even the witnesses who testified in support of the proposed bills or sought major changes to the law affirmed Lacey’s importance while being very divided in their opinions about the changes needed.
“While all who testified claimed they support the Lacey Act’s objectives to combat the environmental, social and economic devastation wrought by illegal logging, some witnesses called for sweeping changes to the law, including a measure that would allow companies to keep and profit from stolen timber and wood products,” said Lisa Handy of the Environmental Investigation Agency. "This doesn't add up."
In 2008, the Lacey Act was amended with bipartisan support and broad endorsement from industry, labor and environmental groups to add a prohibition on the import and trade of illegally logged forest products into the United States to this century-old law designed to confront the illegal wildlife trade. The World Future Policy Council and the United Nations recently recognized it as one of the world’s three most effective forest conservation policies, having contributed to a 22% reduction in global illegal logging in just four years.
“Illegal logging is not just an environmental issue – it is also a global economic issue,” said Donna Harman, President and CEO of the American Forest & Paper Association, whose organization commissioned a study that found the cost of illegal logging to American producers to be over $1 billion annually. “Many U.S. hardwood timber mills are small, family-owned businesses, so the Lacey Act provides significant economic benefits to American rural businesses and jobs.”
The Lacey Act is a critical measure in saving American jobs. “Leveling the playing field for legitimate American producers of forest products was an important objective underlying the Lacey Act,” said Mark Rey, former Undersecretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and the Environment under the Bush Administration.
The dubious claim that H.R. 3210 would provide “relief” to the music industry was severely undermined in today’s hearing. In his testimony, Adam Gardner, Frontman of Guster and Founder and Co-director of Reverb, expressed just the opposite sentiment: “In effect H.R. 3210 only provides “relief” to illegal loggers while leaving musicians and other consumers of wood products with burdensome doubt about the legality and sustainability of the wood products we use. By contrast, the Lacey Act provides comforting assurance to conscientious consumers like myself that the wood I am buying in my instruments or elsewhere is legally sound.”
Gardner presented Members of Congress with a pledge signed by a number of top-selling musicians and bands stating support for the Lacey Act and opposition to current efforts underway to weaken it. Notable pledge signers included Bonnie Raitt, David Crosby, Dave Matthews Band, Jack Johnson, Willie Nelson, Bob Weir, Maroon 5, Jason Mraz, My Morning Jacket, The Barenaked Ladies, Pat Simmons of the Doobie Brothers, Ray Benson of Asleep at the Wheel, Brad Corrigan of Dispatch, Of A Revolution (O.A.R.), The Cab, Ryan Dobrowski and Israel Nebeker of Blind Pilot, Guster, Jack Antonoff of F.U.N., Brett Dennen, Richard Bona, Razia Said, and over 40,000 others.
Stefan Lessard, founding member and bassist for Dave Matthews Band, explained their rationale for signing on: “Dave Matthews Band has been putting forth many efforts to reduce the environmental impact of our touring for over a decade. There are no other products more directly connected to our music than the instruments we use to play it. We need to keep the laws that are in place to help ensure the wood for these instruments is sourced in a legal and environmentally sound way.”
Jason Mraz stated, "Every musician wants to jam on instruments they can feel good about. The Lacey Act helps ensure that our art has a positive impact on the environment rather than contributing to forest destruction.”
The RELIEF Act, introduced by Representatives Cooper (D-TN), Blackburn (R-TN), and Bono Mack (R-CA), would eliminate key deterrence mechanisms central to the effectiveness of the Lacey Act. Though the bill’s proponents portray the measure as beneficial to musicians, the sweeping provisions are really only a boost to Asian logging conglomerates and corrupt timber barons who have long wanted to reverse the law and regain access to the giant American market for illegally harvested forest products. H.R. 3210 would completely exempt pulp, paper, composites and other non-solid wood products, representing fifty percent of US wood imports, from requirements put in place to help block imports from illegal sources. It would also allow businesses to keep and trade wood products that have been proven to be stolen, contrary to common practice for contraband goods such as stolen television sets and art.
The other bill discussed in today’s hearing was H.R. 4171, the “FOCUS Act”, introduced by Representative Broun (R-GA), with a companion bill introduced by Senator Rand Paul (R-KY) in the Senate. FOCUS is an extreme bill that would remove any criminal liabilities for importing illegally sourced forest products and illegal wildlife, as well as the requirement to conduct business in compliance with foreign laws. Both are fundamental elements of the century-old Lacey Act.
While currently under investigation in two cases for allegedly violating the Lacey Act, Gibson Guitar (headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee) has embarked on a campaign to change the law under which they are being investigated.
The importance of the Lacey Act’s role in supporting the rule of law around the world was underscored by the recent murder of Cambodian conservationist Chut Wutty, who was killed while working to expose illegal logging of rosewood, often used in musical instruments, and other species in Cambodia’s national parks. Such acts of violence and human rights violations, such as slave labor and sexual abuse, are commonplace in the illegal wood trade, much like the “blood diamonds” that funded wars in West Africa. Criminal elements are certainly driving the illegal trade and thus criminal penalties should remain a key part of the law.