Thompson discusses Forest Product Fairness Act with U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsak
As many of you know, the forest products industry is a significant component of the rural economy – especially in the 5th District of Pennsylvania. Unfortunately, the industry has encountered substantial economic losses over the last decade in part due to the slumping housing market. Since 2005, Pennsylvania has lost between 10-20,000 jobs in the forest industry. Nationally, we’ve seen almost 300,000 jobs lost over the same period.
In my time in Congress, I have been staunchly committed to strengthening our rural economies and advancing the best interests of our agriculture communities, which includes the forest and forest products industry. On area in particular is working to promote new product markets for the forestry industry, which is why I’ve introduced the Forest Products Fairness Act of 2013 (H.R. 979), legislation that would open new market opportunities for American forestry producers by allowing forest products to qualify for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Biobased Markets Program, also known as the BioPreferred Program.
USDA’s BioPreferred Program was created as a part of the 2002 farm bill and was intended to encourage the use of biobased products throughout the federal government. As currently administered, USDA excludes most forest products from the program on the basis that the forest industry is not an “emerging” market, despite their express inclusion under the law regardless of any department-designated market status. As a result, the program encourages the use and purchase foreign products, such as bamboo from China, at the expense of American bio-based and wood products.
In August 2012, I sent USDA a letter, asking Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsak to consider changes to this program to ensure that the intent of the law is followed (USDA reponse: click here). I took the opportunity to discuss the BioPreferred Program and emphasize how H.R. 979 could stem the losses the forest industry has taken in the last decade with Secretary Vilsak during his recent appearance before the House Agriculture Committee. I was encouraged by this discussion, will continue to push for this important policy change, and look forward to working with him and USDA to promote and expand markets for our forest industry.
Rep. Thompson: “Innovation is incredibly important, but I would argue that what has been excluded because it is considered “mature” is really shortsighted when it was put in place. We have lost 300,000 jobs in the forest products industry. So we also have a commitment to maintain current forest products markets, as well develop emerging markets."
USDA Secretary Vilsak: “Obviously we need help from you on that to better clarify the definition, so that there is greater flexibility on what we can do there. We are looking at new and emerging market opportunities. You know if you all change the direction and focus on this, we’ll obviously respond to it."