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John Ruberry

John Ruberry is a Morton Grove, Illinois-based writer and blogger.
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Bureaucratic Mismanagement and Activist Overreach Open Forests to Fire

Thursday, July 19th, 2012 - by John Ruberry

It has become an often familiar refrain. Every summer, there is another massive wildfire permeating through one, or several, of America’s forests. At one point or another, the fires have resulted from arsonists, drought or the simple missteps of campers lacking expertise in campfire management.

Root causes aside, it is inarguable that the double-edged sword of bureaucracy and single-minded activists have hamstrung America’s forests, sidelining proper forest management techniques.

The most disastrous fires often take their heaviest toll on forest land owned by the federal government, yet these blazes are often put into check once reaching private land. The distinction here lies in a simple formula: the prodding of activists has, in all too typical fashion, led the government to clamp down on federally-held forest land in such a way that it sets back proper management by hundreds of years. Ed Farnan, in IrishCentral, decried the policy of “restoring our forests to their former pre-mankind condition, man was taken out of the equation.”

The government has subsequently made forestry care an expensive task mired with red tape.

For an example, some have noted the “mega fire” that ensued around the Lake Tahoe basin around the California and Nevada border. With the land managed by what would appear a never ending stream of government bureaucracies and agency careerists, property owners were prohibited from even cleaning brush residing on their property by hand. The flames rose and subsumed 250 homes and 3,000 acres, largely due to management practices that opened the door for the fire to spread easily.

When left to property owners, the results speak clearly in showing that forests are often better cared for while doors are still opened to timber harvesting. Why? A vested interest in maintaining a healthy environment is a clear winner, not sidelining responsibility and endangering lives for the sake of activists’ wishes that forests return to prehistoric conditions.

In a recent New York Times piece, Paul Schwennesen, a south Arizona cattle rancher, not to mention Harvard grad, summed it up on point in saying that “there is no force on earth likely to breed sustainable management than the vested interested in owning the results of your actions.”

However, the Schwennesen-termed “professionals” and unelected bureaucrats continue to run roughshod over private management, impeding proper management capabilities for the sake of appeasement at a higher price. Costs of harvesting timber are continually proving too high and have made it “cheaper in some southwestern states to import lumber from as far away as New Zealand than to harvest and manufacture it locally.”

Certification discrimination for forests further compounds the problem. Though it has been made repeatedly clear that the majority of private forest owners prefer subscribing to Sustainable Forestry Initiative (SFI) standards for certification, as opposed to those of the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC), government regulations continually stonewall owners with a clear and present preference to FSC’s standards, whose stamp of approval further ramps up costs. Even worse, the unelected bureaucrats behind LEED certification standards have chosen to only recognize FSC forests as certifiable.

Factor in the increased costs of FSC standards with the fact that 90% of FSC lands are located outside of North America, and the albatross of government’s impeding on proper forest care only rises.

Not only is the vicious cycle of idiocy taking its toll on America’s forests and endangering property owners, but add putting Americans out of work to the list, as well.

Logging jobs pay well and many communities near federally-owned forests are suffering a double hit: a stubborn recession that has severely hobbled the construction industry, coupled with federal policies that cater to environmentalists. A balanced-approach is needed, one that takes into consideration the people who live near the forests–and of course the economic well-being of the entire nation. Looking at the United States Forest Service web site, you learn that Gifford Pinchot, the first chief of the USFS, said the goal of the agency was “to provide the greatest amount of good for the greatest amount of people in the long run.” Or, as a Forest Service ranger in Utah told me a couple of years ago, “These are lands of many uses.”

Markets for locally grown wood are, for lack of a better term, extinguished as forests are transformed into conditions that make wildfires, such as the mammoths witnessed this year, an even greater likelihood.

The currently charted course is not shielding homeowners from risk or allowing for proper remedies. Large forests and larger price tags naturally lead to a denser environment, full of dried timber. As such, the board is set for wildfires of a greater intensity that would naturally be necessary, were humans allowed to actually acknowledge their role in nature’s process.

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Green Bureaucrats Nix US Timber, Common Plastic in New Plan

Thursday, April 19th, 2012 - by John Ruberry

The U.S. Green Building Council has begun floating a series of progressive amendments to its building certification program, stirring controversy within the construction, forestry and chemical industries that warn the proposal is radical environmentalism masquerading as reasonable regulation.

The proposed changes to the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) program, administered by the private USGBC group but since adopted by the federal government, disallows the use of over 75 percent of America’s certified forests and the third most commonly produced plastic worldwide.

A building must cross varying green thresholds — accruing credits through an exhaustive review of sustainability, water efficiency, energy and materials — to earn one of the program’s four accreditation levels. As written, the four new accreditation levels will bar the usage of products containing Polyvinyl chloride, better known as PVC, or lumber sourced from over three-fourths of American certified forests.

In a preferential nod to one forestry certification group, LEED stipulates that credits will be awarded for the “responsible extraction of raw materials” that qualify as “[Forest Stewardship Council] or better.”

Unlike other green building rating tools like Green Globes and the National Green Building standard that recognize all forest certification standards, LEED’s critics say the insistence on FSC-certified forests or the undefined “better” baseline has erected an artificial and ambiguous barrier to American timber.

“‘FSC or better’ is neither logical nor scientific,” Michael Goergen Jr., executive vice president and CEO of the Society of American Foresters, said of the decision. “Especially when it continues to reinforce misconceptions about third-party forest certification and responsible forest practices.”

But whereas industry forces acquiesced to the technical provisions in earlier models, the proposal to ban products containing PVC has put on edge the construction and chemical industries.

The effective banning of the third most widely-produced and consumed plastic worldwide means a tremendous, new burden on the industrial and construction sectors, as the pair will be forced to use other, more expensive alternatives whose own environmental merits are ambiguous by the government’s own account.

While the outright banning of PVC has been a goal of the environmental lobby for some time — GreenPeace has a campaign to “phase out this poison plastic” — USGBC’s assent, some say, runs counter to the group’s long-held posture towards the chemical.

A 2007 study by the USGBC revealed PVC outperformed a number of still-approved alternative materials in ecotoxicity, eco depletion and contribution to climate change. Specifically, the report found:

“PVC performs better than some alternatives studied for window frames, siding, and drain-waste-vent pipe;”

“Relative to the environmental impact categories (acidification, eutrophication, ecotoxicity, smog, ozone depletion and global climate change), PVC performs better than several material alternatives studied;”

“If buyers switched from PVC to aluminum window frames, to aluminum siding, or to cast iron pipe, it could be worse than using PVC;”

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End Corporate Welfare: Reform the Export-Import Bank

Friday, April 13th, 2012 - by John Ruberry

In the 1930’s, the Export-Import Bank was established by the U.S. government to protect American companies by financing foreign purchases of U.S. goods, so that the domestic exporters could compete with foreign companies that are often subsidized by their respective governments.  Sadly, Ex-Im Bank has taken a radical departure from its founding days.

Rather than providing loan guarantees to a medley of U.S. companies, Ex-Im Bank predominantly finances a single company that generates billions of dollars of revenue and is one of the largest corporations in the world.  Raking in almost half of all Ex-Im’s loan guarantees is the Boeing Company.  The airplane maker has become the principle breadwinner of what could kindly be described as lavish corporate subsidies.  And Boeing’s gain certainly appears to be America’s loss.

This government-run system of corporate welfare compromises America’s free market principals by picking winners and losers, and is even more deleterious to America’s airline industry.

When Ex-Im Bank subsidizes foreign airlines purchases of Boeing’s aircraft, the American airline industry gets the raw end of the deal.  American carriers are not given access to these favorable subsidies and are thereby placed at a competitive disadvantage, ironically by a federal agency whose supposed mission is to protect American employees and employers.

Using the Ex-Im Bank as its vehicle, the government is manipulating the free market, deeming winners and losers by awarding financing to companies of its own choosing.  Such government intervention should be used rarely, if ever, and always with the utmost caution.  This was perhaps best evidenced by the recent collapse of the housing market, which had been artificially propped up by the government’s unnecessary financing of mortgages.  Yet, the government is taking market distortions to a whole new level by subsidizing a company that has a net profit of more than a billion dollars a year at the expense of the struggling airline industry.

The government’s market distorting behavior is exemplified by Ex-Im’s financing of foreign airlines, which allows overseas rivals to pay roughly $5 million less than American carriers per wide body aircraft.  As a result, domestic carries lose out on hundreds of millions of dollars that instead goes to companies that undercut American employment.

In the process, American workers also become a victim of Ex-Im Bank’s subsidies.  When Ex-Im chooses to favor foreign airlines companies over its American counterparts, jobs are lost.  Ex-Im has already cost the U.S. airline industry up to 7,500 jobs and in an industry that employs 400,000, the number is certain to grow unless the current policy is reformed.

In short, changes need to be quickly made.  The Ex-Im Bank should be allowed to finance the purchase of American manufactured goods, as it was intended, but it should also protect American jobs as was also originally intended.

Reforms should seek to ensure that Ex-Im follows its Congressional mandate of considering the negative impact of its financing on American workers through thorough impact analyses before it acts.  Further, Ex-Im Bank should move toward a culture of transparency by opening its meetings to the public, disclosing its activities and soliciting public comment before it renders a decision; this is especially true when taking into account that the Bank is backed by American taxpayer dollars.  Finally, America needs to work diplomatic channels to minimize foreign credit agencies impact on the market and begin to ratchet back the subsidies as even the bank’s own vice president for transportation has characterized the dependence on subsidies as “not healthy”.

America faces stiff competition from its global competitors.  The country is plagued by a ballooning deficit, partisan gridlock and out-of-control spending. Our country is already facing enough obstacles as it is, if we want to continue to prevail in the global economy, we need reforms that will protect U.S. jobs over foreign subsidies.  We can start by sending a clear message to Congress: reforming the Export-Import Bank will stop job losses and end corporate welfare.

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