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Log-Export Measure In Dispute Lawmakers Disagree Over Effect Of Proposed Change To 1990 Ban

Associated Press

Democratic Reps. Peter DeFazio of Oregon and Norm Dicks of Washington clashed over a proposal the House approved Friday to alter a 1990 ban on exports of unprocessed logs from national forests.

Dicks and other backers of the measure included in an Interior Department spending bill said the ultimate result would be an increase in the amount of timber milled within the United States.

But DeFazio, armed with an opinion from the U.S. Agriculture Department, claimed the opposite - that private timber companies would benefit from the bill’s expansion of an exemption that facilitates exports.

“This will repeal the log export ban, plain and simple. You cannot deny it,” DeFazio said in a floor speech.

“It repeals the ban so we can become a log exporting colony of Japan, where they don’t harvest trees. … It is not good even for those log exporting companies of Washington state that are pushing this.”

Dicks responded, “He’s just wrong on that. It is not accurate.”

“What we are doing here is ensuring you have a lot more Washington state logs staying home,” he said in an interview after the House vote.

Congress approved the export ban seven years ago as a way to slow the flow of raw logs overseas and bolster domestic milling at a time of dramatic reductions in logging on national forests.

The complicated dispute that has resulted is in large part a regional turf battle, as most timber companies in Oregon process their wood domestically while most of the export business is based in Washington state.

The proposal backed by Dicks, Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and Sen. Slade Gorton, R-Wash., would alter “substitution” restrictions, which prohibit private companies from buying any timber from national forests if they export their own privately owned trees.

In some cases, companies were granted special “sourcing areas” - economically and geographically distinct areas away from their exporting businesses - where they could continue to buy federal timber for domestic milling.

Under the measure approved Friday, Dicks said, companies still would be prohibited from exporting federal timber but would be allowed to ship privately owned timber into their sourcing area for domestic milling.

“The Forest Service regulations would have blocked private timber from being able to come into a sourcing area. We think that is utterly insane,” Dicks said. “The whole purpose was to increase domestic processing.”

DeFazio disagreed. He quoted from a letter this month by the Agriculture Department’s Office of Inspector General that concluded the proposed change would “effectively gut” the 1990 ban.

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