House Ways and Mean Field Hearing
Congress came to West Virginia this winter. The House Ways and Means Committee held a field hearing at Allegheny Wood Products in Petersburg. The purpose of field hearing was to listen to the state of business in this region of Appalachia. Witnesses included Allegheny Wood Products Vice President Tom Plaugher. His testimony focused on the devastating impact of trade tariffs, the impact of inflation, especially on energy, to not only the business but the employees, along with delays in the supply chain that require the company to invest in larger inventory of parts to continue to operate. There were two hours of questions from Member of Congress from all over the country, many from urban and suburban districts where wood products are important to fulfill the demand for housing.
Other witnesses were from local businesses in West Virginia who shared similar stories how they have been challenged with inflation, energy costs, and supply chain problems.
We want to thank Allegheny Wood Products for hosting the hearing to provide one of the most important House Committees to understand how their actions impact rural communities. Field hearings are an important tool used by Congressional Committees to gather a perspective outside of the Washington, DC environment.
The US Fish and Wildlife Service delayed the designation of the Northern Long-eared Bat to Endangered status until March 31. There was a lot of input to this designation by in the forestry community, along with questions from state and local governments how this designation would impact operations.
Waters of the US (Wetlands)
The Environmental Protection Agency issued a revised rule of regulating the permitting requirements when a landowner impacts wetlands as defined as “waters of the United States.” Many organizations across the country have filed suit against EPA because of the potential cost and limitations this would have to agriculture, forestry, energy development, housing constructions, and other major land use groups. West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrissey has joined with other State Attorney Generals to stop this rulemaking.
Legislation surrounding forest carbon emerged again this year in West Virginia, with bills in both House and Senate moving through the legislative process. The rapid chain markets and requirements to meet the offset standards are becoming such a market force that some large forest ownerships are using forest carbon offsets to increase income while harvesting is declining for many reasons including a shortage of loggers, trucking, and declining prices for sawn lumber.
This is a challenging issue for the Association, as we have many wood products manufacturers and forest owners. The Board of Directors passed a resolution that recognizes this challenge. This will continue to be an issue for forest products companies and forest land owners, both of whom want to sustain operations while providing a solid return to the investors. The jobs provided in manufacturing sector in the industry are at risk should the carbon markets continue to climb, and forest owners need a viable wood products industry to sustainably manage their forests.
The complexity and diversity of the forest carbon offset contracts further amplifies the need for more outreach and education among forest owners and elected officials to assure both the sustainable management of forests can be achieved while not sacrificing the jobs and wood products society demands from our forest.
Once again legislation emerged this year to address a long-standing concern of the wood products sector to reduce insurance costs and risks. The support the Association received from insurers, other heavy industries, and legislators was remarkable. Tort reform is a very difficult issue to reform, largely because of the vast opportunities for large settlements where attorneys receive 40% or more of the entire settlement. There are only a couple of insurers in the state willing to provide insurance to cover this risk to employers and the cost of this insurance is prohibitive, so many smaller companies, such as loggers, operate at full risk of a lawsuit from an injured worker.
This is one of the most difficult issues the Association took on behalf of members. Success means more insurers will offer coverage and that will lower prices.
Managed Timberland Tax Program
Legislation requiring the Division of Forestry to provide online renewals for all participants in this tax program that requires forest management through harvesting emerged this year. This will save both landowners and the Division of Forestry from tedious renewal applications where nothing has changed on the tracts enrolled.