As America continues to struggle with unemployment, one might assume government is doing whatever it can to encourage new job growth.
But one government agency is actually considering a rule that could cost our region jobs.
What's known as the "Forest Roads Rule" will harm the forest products industry that supports 2.9 million jobs in this country. I am working with a broad coalition — including labor, business, Democrats and Republicans — to make sure this doesn't happen and these jobs are protected.
Here's the story: since the passage of the Clean Water Act 35 years ago, roads that provide logging access on forestlands have been considered "nonpoint pollution sources." This "nonpoint" designation, combined with Washington's Forest and Fish law, has been widely regarded as the most thorough environmental protection in the nation.
Then, last year that was all thrown out by a single court decision in the 9th Circuit Court in San Francisco. Under the court's ruling, forest roads will be considered "point sources," which means the dirt, rocks and runoff from roads on forest land would require the same government scrutiny and permitting under the Clean Water Act as things like factories and industrial parking lots.
The result would be a big wad of expensive and pointless government red tape for everyone in the forest products industry. These roads offer access to timber, which in turn supply pulp and paper production, construction, and other job-providing industries in Cowlitz County and throughout Southwest Washington. The new rule will force those who own and manage forest lands to obtain a new permit from the Environmental Protection Agency in order to keep using their roads. That's more government bureaucracy that means higher costs on employers, consumers — and taxpayers.
Consider the costs that will come from public lands alone. The U.S. Forest Service is responsible for managing hundreds of millions of acres of public forest land. That agency predicts it would have to obtain more than 400,000 permits for the roads on this land, which would take ten years or more to acquire. Guess who pays for that? The taxpayers.
We all agree that our waterways, salmon and wildlife must be protected. In the last 20 years, increased regulation and changes in forest management policy have increased that protection. But rather than making environmental sustainability easier to achieve, this rule would place an additional burden on employers who are already struggling to keep people employed.
I have joined Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Oregon) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), U.S. Reps. Kurt Schrader (D-Oregon), Norm Dicks (D-Washington), Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Washington) and others in sponsoring legislation that would stop the misguided rule from taking effect. I'm also pleased to have the support of private forest landowners and labor unions in this effort.
In July, Executive Secretary/Treasurer of the Carpenters Industrial Council Mike Pieti summed up the effects of the rule when he said, "it will cost precious jobs in areas hardest hit by this recession with no positive impact on the environment." At a time when more than one out of every ten Cowlitz County residents is out of work, we can't afford to lose more family-wage jobs.
The radical rule being considered will end up costing our region jobs. Congress needs to pass the bill I am sponsoring and stop this job-killer in its tracks. I don't believe we have to choose between protecting jobs and protecting our environment. We can get folks back to work today and continue preserve our natural resources for the next generation.
Editor's Note: This commentary was submitted by Jaime Herrera Beutler, U.S. Representative from Washington's 3rd District.