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Dave Matthews Band on Deforestation: We need to keep the Lacey Act in place and reject efforts to gut this critical law

Jake Schmidt

Posted July 9, 2012 in Saving Wildlife and Wild Places, Solving Global Warming

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RAN Staff Visits Allies and Sites of Forest Conflict in Indonesia - July 2011Stefan Lessard, founding member of Dave Matthews Band, recently wrote an editorial in the Richmond Times-Dispatch which condemned efforts to undermine a critical U.S. law that is helping curb deforestation by stopping the flow of illegal wood and wood products.  The law, the Lacey Act, is under attack by some companies and Members of Congress. One House of Representatives committee recently passed a bill to undermine the Lacey Act, despite bi-partisan opposition to the bill’s passage. And House Leadership is pushing for this bill to come up for a vote by the whole House of Representatives before the end of July. Passage of this bill would be devastating for efforts to address deforestation, as Dave Matthews Band and other leading musicians recognized.

Proponents of the bill to undermine the Lacey Act claim that their bill is just a small “tweak” which helps individual musicians. After all, no one wants to hurt a struggling musician or hurt a small Mom and Pop music company. Unfortunately, the bill that passed would do much more than its proponents claim. This is why some big businesses like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, the trade association that represents home builders, Ikea, and the trade association made up of major retailers (such as Wal-Mart, Whole Foods, REI, Lowe’s, Home Depot, IBM and Unilever)  have come out in support of efforts to undermine the Lacey Act.

So with the purported plight of individual musicians being used as justification for undermining the Lacey Act, it is welcome news to have musicians like Dave Matthews Band take a public stand. Dave Matthews Band recently joined with other leading musicians in signing a petition calling for Members of Congress to not undermine this law. These musicians want to ensure that their musical instruments aren’t driving the destruction of forests around the world.

The full editorial from Stefan Lessard is worth a read but here are a couple of the key points:  

“…I want a bass guitar that sounds as good as possible. But I also care deeply about whether its wood is harming the environment….

That is why it is important to me that the instruments I use are made from legally sourced wood and do not contribute to illegal deforestation in other parts of the world, which devastates local economies and ecosystems…

Unfortunately, now there are efforts in Congress to eviscerate the Lacey Act.

…These bills' supporters claim that they are only trying to protect individual musicians who mistakenly travel out of the country with an instrument made from illegal wood. This is an unfounded worry, since the U.S. government has stated that it won't target individual musicians but will only focus on "commercial traffickers." This is pure fear-mongering.

Congress members seeking to undercut the Lacey Act are out of tune with the majority of musicians who are committed to ensuring sustainable practices so future generations also have access to the tonewoods that provide the rich sounds that make music great.”

Help us and these musicians take a stand against these efforts to allow illegal wood and wood products back into the U.S. Tell Congress to protect the world’s forests and wildlife from illegal logging.

I sure hope Members of Congress starting listening.

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Photo: Deforestation in Indonesia, courtesy of Rainforest Action Network under Creative Commons License.

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Comments

Erik AutorJul 10 2012 09:59 AM

There is so much disinformation about the bill to amend the Lacey Act Amendments. We in the retail industry support the objectives of the Lacey Act and companies, like IKEA, have a long record of strong forest stewardship. We would not support a bill that we felt undermined the objectives of Lacey and compromised enforcement. However, the original bill was very poorly drafted and had only one hearing in a House subcommittee before being tacked onto the massive farm bill in 2008. Even the environmental NGOs acknowledge that there have been problems with this law that need to be fixed. That is what the RELIEF Act is trying to do. Opponents have hurled unsubstantiated claims about how this legislation will gut Lacey, without identifying any specific problems with this bill. Let's have a real debate on policy and the specifics of this bill instead of firing folks up with a lot of heated rhetoric and disinformation.

Thomas CaineJul 10 2012 10:15 AM

This is pretty hard to read when you actually know about the conflicts at hand. I can't agree with the last comment more. This bill changes nothing for anyone who knowingly violates the Lacey Act. Nothing. It grandfathers in instruments that would be otherwise literally impossible to import.

On a separate note, it really tickles my funny bone to know people are so ready to stop illegal logging through way of musical instruments made in the USA. USA is responsible for importing MAYBE 5% of wood that is logged illegally (1% of that 5% going to instruments (That's 0.5%!! of a global problem)) while countries like China are making Brazilian Rosewood beds that sell for a million dollars each, yielding less than 1% profit to the country of harvest. You musical "activists" make me sick. Do some research!!

Rob GarnerJul 10 2012 02:09 PM

I applaud Erik's comment for wanting real solutions. I also applaud Jake for his time and efforts to keep people informed. I know Steffan wrote the first part of the editorial and its nice to have pledges but have seen the same language in every presentation of so called musician advocates of not messing with Lacey. It is time to change the soundbite.

Unfortunately, businesses and NGO's and governments are missing real opportunities to address the issues at hand. First, it is not just the music industry that should be included at the heart of the debate.

As a professional musician, I have worked with the music industry for years on sustainable wood sourcing and was advocating for sustainable instruments and creating the risk assessment tools now being issued as progressive - years ago.

It has become so territorial on who can sit at the table to discuss practical solutions that best practices are being sidelined. I would welcome any business or NGO to have a sit down on ways forward that will protect the Lacey Act and its intentions of addressing illegal and unsustainable logging globally.

Jake SchmidtJul 10 2012 03:19 PM

Hi Erik,
We are more than happy to have a dialogue on how to strengthen the Lacey Act and make it work better. We will engage with Ikea, the National Retail Federation, or anyone else that wants to talk specifics. Unfortunately the bill proposed -- the RELIEF Act -- goes way beyond what its proponents claim. We have been quite clear both publicly and privately that we have specific concerns with the RELIEF Act around various provisions. Here is a link to our letter of opposition which raises our concerns: http://bit.ly/Nm8bNt. And here is the letter from industry: http://bit.ly/Nm8eIZ.

So let's review the policy concerns NRDC and others have. The RELIEF Act would do several things: First, it would completely eliminate pulp and paper, composites, or other "non-solid" wood from having to comply -- eliminating enforcement from the vast majority of the global wood trade, making the act extremely weak. This would put at risk thousands of jobs and hundreds of businesses that have to compete against illegal pulp and paper. Second, it scale-back the definition of conservation laws that would need to be complied with. Many countries – including the U.S. – enforce laws to protect forests and wildlife through a variety of laws, including trade laws. So the RELIEF Act would mean that a company could break the law in another country and still import the wood or wood products into the U.S. Lastly, it would allow a company to keep its ill begotten gains and pay no restitution if they “unknowingly” imported the products. So if I put a blindfold over my eyes but bought a stolen art work I could still keep that art work even if it was proven in court to be stolen. That principle doesn’t make sense.

So those are our concerns. I would love to hear what you think the RELIEF Act does to address these concerns because we have been over it many times and have raised these concerns to anyone that will listen.

Jake SchmidtJul 10 2012 03:26 PM

Hi Thomas,

See my response to Erik about what the RELIEF Act does. It goes way beyond protecting some individual musician that may happen to travel out of the country. The US government and our coalition have been very clear that we have no desire to have the Act target individual musicians. In fact, the Act hasn't been used in that manner in its its 100 year history.

The Lacey Act doesn't target musical instruments as you suggest I'm implying, although that is clearly the current controversy due to the Gibson Guitar case. But the RELIEF would eliminate the teeth of the Act for all wood and wood products. So if RELIEF passed you would be able to import pulp and paper products that came from illegal sources and there would be no consequences. That is a problem.

We aren't trying to solve deforestation through musical instruments. The reverse is true: proponents of RELIEF Act are trying to gut the law on the premise of individual musicians.

Thomas CaineJul 10 2012 04:33 PM

Thanks for the response Jake. Sorry to blow up a bit earlier. I know all about 3210 as I have been present during more than one meeting with Jim Cooper on the said topic. Some people base there entire business on the importing of old musical instruments. As the law sits now, they would go from a good business... to out of business.

As for the government "verbally" stating that they do not intend on going after individual musicians, the literature is still NOT there so they can say it all they want to. A law is a law. I agree wholeheartedly about pulp and paper but would like to remind you that its not possible to fill out a PPQ-505 and tell the origin and species of pulp products in some cases. Let alone thousand and thousands of times each year as a big business. Businesses like IKEA would lose millions of man hours.

The Gibson guitar case is a terrible example of why this law has come about and I believe Gibson should not have bought wood in a grey market (or this will happen). The amendments to the act would in no way affect the case in any way.

Jake SchmidtJul 10 2012 04:52 PM

Thomas,

Thanks for the response. We have been very clear that we open to clarifying that the law isn't aimed at individuals or pre-2008 instruments. How you do that so as not to open up huge loopholes is worth considering, but we are quite clear that individual musicians aren't the cause of deforestation. The Lacey Act is intended to focus on "serial traffickers". It sort of makes sense as no law enforcement agency wants to spend valuable time and resources going after insignificant players. But we are still open to the best way to codify those ideas to give greater clarity. Unfortunately RELIEF goes way beyond that.

We have also been clear that pulp and paper and composites may require some phasing in for compliance. After all, the act was passed 4 years ago and pulp and paper is still not fully included. We’ve been patient. But I wonder how a company would know that the wood is legal if you can't even tell what type of wood goes into the pulp and paper. Seems like a company wouldn't really have a good handle on its suppliers legality if it didn't have basic information like what type of wood is in the pulp and paper. But let's work out the details on how to do that in the best manner -- not completely eliminate pulp and paper and composites from having to comply as the RELIEF Act does.

Rob GarnerJul 10 2012 09:41 PM

The comments from all contributors to this post have been worthwhile but what has not been discussed in the run up on Relief is that there are tools that are now available to businesses and NGO's that address all the issues in the Relief Act without the need for legislative fixes.

The core issues of retroactivity of the law, defense to liability and doing business under the fear of strict liability are directly addressed in the Lacey Due Care Consensus Standard approved in late May. The standard is a legal opinion and is being market tested as we speak.

The standard and its equivalency applications for forest certification presents the most practical approach for retailers, importers, SMEs, large manufacturers and producers to pursue a fact based approach to risk management for completing due diligence on their supply chains of pulp or solid wood while complementing efforts to save jobs in the US and the livelihoods of forest dependent people globally through the Lacey Act and EU laws.

I would be glad to discuss the market applications and implications with anyone interested. Its time to use our global knowledge for positive applications instead of divisive arguments.

Comments are closed for this post.

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Switchboard is the staff blog of the Natural Resources Defense Council, the nation’s most effective environmental group. For more about our work, including in-depth policy documents, action alerts and ways you can contribute, visit NRDC.org.

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