Stop the Federal Government Picking Winners and Losers
Ask your member of Congress to oppose S. 2892 and H.R. 5628
By Stephen Borg
As Congress returns from its August recess, I wanted to take this time to bring a new bill to your attention and ask that you share our concerns with your local members of Congress. On April 28, 2016, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) introduced S. 2892, the Timber Innovation Act (TIA). Then, on July 14, 2016, Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA) introduced the companion House legislation as H.R. 5628. Specifically, the legislation directs the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to establish a research and development program “advancing” the use of wood in tall buildings 10 floors and higher. It also creates a grant program for state and local communities to promote the use of wood materials in construction of these buildings over other materials and establishes a competition for tall wood building design.
The Mason Contractors Association of America (MCAA) has many concerns with this legislation, but our main objections center on the safety and soundness of the built environment — including tall wood buildings — and the federal government providing an unfair advantage to one building material over all others. As a result of our concerns over this bill and the timber industry’s aggressive lobbying effort, MCAA has joined a coalition — a diverse group of stakeholders consisting not only of the construction and building materials sector but also insurance and firefighters’ organizations — in opposition to this bill and has been meeting with Congressional offices to raise our concerns.
Our main argument against this legislation is that we believe it is inappropriate for the federal government to pick winners and losers for building materials in the construction industry, especially at U.S. taxpayers’ expense. The wood industry already benefits from an industry-funded federal check-off program, which is entirely appropriate. Putting the federal government in the position of promoting one industry at the expense of others would be inappropriate and counterproductive for job growth. The federal government should instead be promoting fair competition in the marketplace. It is critically important to allow the engineers, architects, general contractors, material suppliers, and other interested and affected parties to determine the best practices for designing and constructing buildings based on sound science and engineering standards.
Our coalition also has serious concerns about the safety of extensive wood use in tall building construction and has been raising this issue in many of our meetings. Model building codes, including the International Building Code (IBC), classify mass timber as a combustible construction material with longstanding limitations on building height and area in order to mitigate the inherent risk to firefighters, first responders and building occupants. Recent code proposals, sponsored by the wood industry seeking to amend these limitations, have been considered and rejected. The code development process provides the appropriate consensus mechanism for interested parties and building science experts to evaluate changes in the interest of public safety. We encourage the federal government to allow the code development process to continue to evaluate the risk associated with timber construction in a comprehensive manner, without the appearance of a preference for any one construction material, as suggested by the TIA legislation.
As members of Congress return to Washington, D.C., the MCAA and our coalition partners will continue to sound the alarm in regards to this legislation, but we are asking for your help as well. Take the time to educate your local member of Congress on the Timber Innovation Act, and ask him/her to oppose this dangerous legislation.
About the Author
Stephen Borg is Vice President of The Keelen Group.