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Hardwood Federation October 2020 Newsletter

From the Executive Director:  Election Time in the U.S. of A.

On November 3rd, the nation will head to the polls for the 2020 elections. Millions have already cast their ballots and those voters who have not already participated by mail or in person will head to the polls next Tuesday to decide who will occupy the White House for the next four years and which party will control the U.S. House and Senate. We ask that, no matter who you vote for… VOTE.  Interest, energy, and emotion are at all-time highs regarding this election and political pundits, professional and amateur, are poring over polls and making predictions.  The most asked question I get is “who will win?”  I always defer that answer to the professionals, but as anyone that even casually follows politics knows – especially after 2016 - anything can happen.

What is clear to us in D.C., maybe the only thing, is that on January 3, 2021 a new Congress will be sworn into office and take their seats and a few weeks later a President will be take his oath.  The 117th Congress will, regardless of which party controls the House and Senate, see an influx of new faces. 

At the Presidential level, the polling in the race has been steady for months, with poll aggregators showing former Vice President Joe Biden currently leading President Donald Trump among likely voters on average about 8 percentage points.   But we know from 2016 that the Electoral College, not the popular vote, decides Presidential elections and the polling in many of the so-called battleground states that are the pathway for either candidate to secure the requisite 270 Electoral College votes is considerably tighter.   The evening of November 3, and perhaps beyond, promises to deliver interesting return viewing for political junkies and novices alike.

Equally, if not more compelling than the Presidential race, is which party will control the U.S. Senate next year.  Currently, Republicans outnumber Democrats (and Independents who caucus with the Democrats) 53-47 in the 100 seat Senate chamber.   This election cycle, however, has Republicans are at a considerable disadvantage as the GOP must defend 23 of the 35 Senate seats that are on the ballot.  In, what has been a topsy-turvy year there are several Senate seats in play that would have been unlikely even a year ago, but whether these will tip away from the Republicans is still very much to be determined. 

On the House side, Democrats currently hold a lead of 232 to 197, meaning that Republicans would need a net gain of 17 to take control of the lower chamber.  44 of the 435 seats up for election are open…meaning that the incumbent is retiring or running for a different office, and regardless of which party wins, a new member will be elected.  Of these “open” seats, 32 were held by a Republican member, while 12 are Democratic open seats. Conventional wisdom has the Democrats holding on to their control of the lower chamber with most pollsters projecting a Democrat pick-up of a handful of House seats around the country.   But again, nothing seems to be conventional these days, and we are waiting for final results, just like everyone else.  It is probably fair to say that regardless of the inevitable surprises and upsets, there will be a significant number of new Members of Congress and staff to educate about the Hardwood industry and our impacts on local, state, and national economies.

As a non-partisan organization, we are not taking sides on any race.  But we remain firmly on the side of the Hardwood industry.  We are already developing strategies for outreach regardless of the election outcome.  This includes the letters sent to both Presidential campaigns that we reported on last month.  And we still have what could be a robust and influential lame duck session to work through.  Look for our post-election analysis next week…and be sure to cast your vote on Tuesday!  Regardless of your party affiliation or 2020 preference, your voice does matter.  And with this election too close to call in many cases, it could make the difference.


USTR Investigations – The U.S. Trade Representative Has Opened Investigation into Both Vietnam and Peru

Early in October the U.S. Trade Representative (USTR) announced the launch of a Section 301 trade investigation of Vietnam regarding concerns around Vietnam’s “acts, policies, and practices related to the import and use of timber that is illegally harvested or traded, and will investigate Vietnam’s acts, policies, and practices that may contribute to the undervaluation of its currency and the resultant harm caused to U.S. commerce.”  You may find the announcement here.

In addition, USTR later announced enforcement actions to block illegal timber imports from Peru.  These actions include a directive to U.S. Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) to block timber imports from certain Peruvian exporters based on the likelihood of illegal timber in their supply chain.  You may find more information regarding this announcement here.

The Hardwood Federation is preparing comments for submission regarding USTR’s action focused on timber.  Historically, the Federation has supported efforts to curtail the illegal harvest of timber and importation of products that unfairly compete with U.S. manufactured goods, however, we are also very sensitive to potential retaliatory actions that could impact exports of U.S. hardwoods to a significant market.  Our comments will strive to reflect this balance and encourage USTR to keep both perspectives in mind.

Federal Forests – Increased…and Needed…Attention on Wildfires and Forest Management

Utah Republican Senator and former Presidential contender Mitt Romney has joined an ever-increasing number of lawmakers that wants action to mitigate the threat of wildfire that continues to ravage the West.  Senator Romney has developed legislation that he plans to introduce called the The Wildland Fire Mitigation & Management Commission Act of 2020.   Among other things, the measure would establish a commission of federal and non-federal stakeholders – including city and county level representation – to study and recommend fire mitigation, management, and rehabilitation policies for forests and grasslands. The Commission, jointly managed by the Secretaries of Interior, Agriculture, and Administrator of FEMA, is tasked with reporting to Congress recommendations on short and long-term wildland fire mitigation and land maintenance to prevent future wildland fires from becoming catastrophic disasters. The Commission will consider policies to improve forest management tactics, federal spending and budgeting for wildland fires, and long-term management and land maintenance policies.

A number of bills have been introduced in the Senate to address the catastrophic wildfire situation that is still threatening lives and property in California.  There may be an opportunity to move provisions of some of these bills—including provisions that would expedite forest thinning projects on federal lands—during the upcoming Lame Duck session of Congress that will begin after the election.  However, the duration of Lame Duck and items that will be taken up are unclear at this point and will be determined largely by what happens on Election Day—or the days shortly following.  We will keep you regularly apprised of developments on what is sure to be a fluid situation. 

HF created a campaign for the industry to send letters to your Members of Congress regarding the importance of forest health and wildfire mitigation – much of which we reported on in our last newsletter.  If you have not yet taken the easy steps to send a letter, please click here to do so.

Trillion Trees Initiative – President Trump Has Signed an Executive Order on Trillion Trees

On October 13th the President signed an Executive Order formally establishing the One Trillion Trees Interagency Council.  Recently HF reported that 30 U.S.-based companies and organizations had joined the One Trillion Trees pledge and this council announcement will, in effect, help jumpstart the global effort to conserve, restore, and grow one trillion trees worldwide by 2030 with a commitment from the United States government.  The council will serve as the primary entity in coordinating the U.S. efforts alongside the global endeavors.  This will include developing policies to increase planting and conservation, while removing barriers which limit the ability of the U.S. to grow, conserve, and restore trees.  Within the Administration the Council will be led by the Secretaries of the Interior and Agriculture, along with 12 other agencies, and White House representatives Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, and others.

You may read the full order here.

Covid Relief Bill – Not Much Movement, But Hope Remains for Lame Duck Relief

Negotiations continue over details of the next round of COVID-19 relief.  Since the CARES Act was enacted in late March, three way haggling between the White House, Senate Republican leadership and House Democrat leaders has failed to produce a consensus measure.  Last week, a roughly $500 billion package failed on a procedural motion in the Senate which signaled the last gasp for securing any relief legislation before the election.  Democrats opposed the measure as insufficient to address the needs of the unemployed, businesses, schools and state and local governments that continue to struggle.  The legislation was a repackage of a bill that the Senate passed in August and it included provisions extending the federal unemployment benefit and authorized another round of Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) funds for small businesses with modifications to allow for broader participation and a second draw for those that have already secured loans.  

The White House has signaled that it is willing to entertain higher monetary figures that have been in the House-passed COVID relief measures, but Speaker Pelosi and Treasury Secretary Mnuchin have been unable to come to terms and close a deal.  At this point, any kind of pandemic relief will have to wait until the Lame Duck session of Congress which will commence the week after the election.   

Happening in the Hardwood World

Transparent Wood…Wait What?!

According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) their Forest Products Lab (FPL) has developed a transparent wood that they are calling “the window of tomorrow.”  A process that treats low-density balsa wood in a room temperature, oxidizing bath thereby bleaching the wood of nearly all its visibility and then covering it with a synthetic polymer creates these amazing panes.

Read the full fascinating article here.



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