Forest Regulations Hurt the Housing Market

The housing market's strong rally is welcome news for construction workers, whose industry was one of the hardest hit during the recession. Unfortunately, the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) is hampering the recovery, helping to drive up the price of timber and ship American jobs and dollars overseas. The organization's ill-conceived double standards are yet another example of well-intentioned regulations killing jobs while doing little to actually protect the environment.

In 1992, a United Nations summit introduced the concept of "forest certification" to help consumers identify forest products -- wood, paper, cardboard, and much more -- that had been harvested in an environmentally responsible way. The intentions of this summit, to bring standards to a growing international industry, were noble, but not all of the standards that emerged were fair and uniform for the participating countries. And while the certifying organizations are private, governments often require builders to receive certification, either to participate in subsidy programs or just to build at all.

The FSC imposes 38 different standards worldwide, some much stricter than others. In the United States, the FSC refuses to certify any forest where particular harvesting methods are used, but it allows many of these methods in nations like Brazil and Russia, on grounds that are vague and arbitrary at best. This puts the American logging industry at a competitive disadvantage.

There are other certification programs that compete with FSC and do not have these double standards. However, pressure from the activist environmental groups that helped found FSC -- including Greenpeace, which has advocated banning logging altogether on millions of acres in North America -- has given FSC timber an unmerited advantage in many green projects. For example, the U.S. Green Building Council adopted FSC's standards for its LEED rating system, which designates buildings as environmentally friendly. As hundreds of cities now require buildings to be LEED-certified, and LEED certification can also come with tax benefits, demand for FSC products has intensified.

At the same time, these same FSC-aligned green groups are working to undermine competing programs, organizing campaigns and boycotts against businesses that use products certified elsewhere. These campaigns are inherently dishonest, as the FSC happily allows foreign loggers to use practices that are environmentally worse than the forestry practices endorsed by competing programs in the U.S.

Each of the three leading programs carefully evaluates timber to ensure it meets environmental standards, but studies from both George Mason University and the American Consumer Institute show that FSC's are unusually strict -- at least for American foresters. If FSC's standards were implemented nationwide, they would eliminate tens of thousands of jobs and cost state governments millions in severance taxes. Overall, the FSC's standards would pull a total of $34 billion out of the economy.

The FSC's double standard on what constitutes "green timber" is absurd and harmful to both the economy and the environmental movement. When a program like LEED favors foreign FSC wood over non-FSC American wood, it often directs business toward the less eco-friendly choice. Some find this dysfunctional system laughable, but it's the nations receiving our jobs and money that are getting the last laugh.

LEED standards exist to promote green building practices and the use of sustainable products in building projects. But because of the preferential treatment of the FSC over other credible certification standards, its standards merely inflate the value of foreign wood, displacing American-grown wood products. Consumers should know the truth about what they're buying, but the FSC's double standards only cloud the picture and cost our country jobs.

Jason Stverak is president of the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity.

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