Government Affairs

Words: Bronzella Cleveland

Get Fired Up! Pun Intended...

Stephen A. Borg

  What is the image that pops into your head if I mention the words tall, wood, and building?  Or what about Mrs. O’Leary’s cow? Ever wonder why Chicago’s firefighters and its fire code were the envy of the world in the late 1800’s and early 1900’s and why they laid the foundation for modern firefighting practices in major cities throughout the 1900’s?  Let me give you one little hint…wood buildings and one big destructive fire. It is estimated that the “Great Chicago Fire of 1871” burnt through 3.3 square miles of the City.  While the story and famous song I learned as a young lad about Mrs. O’Leary’s cow kicking over a lantern in her barn have been most certainly debunked, one fact remains certain…wood burns. Now I am no firefighter and I would guess most of you have never run into a burning building (however if you have thank you for your courage and dedication to keeping us safe).  I can’t tell you why wood burns or how hot it burns.  I can actually not even tell you what wood is considered “best” in the construction industry.  You see, I am not an expert on fire safety or fire codes, but I wanted to take the time in this article to FIRE YOU UP and talk about timber.   While I started this article with a vision of a massive, destructive fire, I don’t even necessarily want to focus on safety and fire awareness, although those are major issues to raise when you are talking to elected officials about this issue.  What I want to do is ask you to keep a vigilant eye on local standards and codes, to get involved, and to make sure that the timber industry is not pulling a fast one over on our elected officials and code makers. For years, the timber industry has been looking for every advantage they can gain in getting their product as the preferred choice in construction after many years of decline.  They have infiltrated local codes, state laws, and are currently looking to gain traction in Congress and internationally. On March 7, 2017, Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) introduced S. 538 and on March 23, 2017, Rep. Suzan DelBene (D-WA) introduced H.R. 1380, bills named the “Timber Innovation Act” that would promote the use of wood in tall construction projects.  The bills would establish a federal research program and provide grant money to study and encourage the use of wood for tall building construction, defined as projects more than 85 feet in height.  Additionally, it would require the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture to work with the “wood products industry” to improve the “commercialization of tall wood building materials.” Since October 2012, the softwood timber industry has operated an industry-wide check-off program, which according to the Binational Softwood Lumber Council exists “to fund a unified softwood lumber promotion program”.  Let me be clear, the Mason Contractors Association of America does not oppose check-off programs, and we are in fact working with industry partners to pass legislation providing us with the legal authority to establish a check-off program for the concrete block industry.  What we find egregious is that it appears that H.R. 1380/S. 538 is providing federal grant funds to ONE specific industry at the expense of others and to an industry that already has a huge amount of industry-backed funding to conduct the studies and promotion that are outlined in the legislation. MCAA believes that Congress should not be providing federal funds to support an industry, especially an industry that has the resources to do this research on their own using their industry-backed check-off program, to the detriment of other construction industries. The federal government should not be in the business of picking winners and losers and it is with this in mind that the MCAA opposes H.R. 1380 and S. 538.  This is where we need your help.  Voicing this opposition was one of our top priorities during our annual Legislative Conference in May in Washington, D.C. but the timber industry is not giving up on their efforts and neither can we. As I type, timber is currently looking to attach the language of the Timber Innovation Act to the “Farm Bill”, legislation that is typically passed once every 5 years and sets forth policy related to agricultural and natural commodities.  We have been pushing back on these efforts relentlessly and many of you have picked up the phone or pulled out your laptops and have contacted your Members of Congress to log your opposition as well. For that we are grateful, but we cannot let up on these efforts. This fight will continue in Washington, D.C. and in your local areas throughout the whole country. After the massive disaster of the Great Fire of 1871, Chicago and its fire department led the way on fire prevention, fire suppression, and fire response.  Today, the Chicago Fire Department’s slogan reads “We’re There When You Need Us”.  As I try to remind you at every turn, our industry and the Mason Contractors Association of America is only as strong as your commitment to telling our story and making our voices heard. We need you to take action and ask your Members of Congress to oppose the Timber Innovation Act and we need your help now!  My sincere hope is that the resounding response ringing out from you will be “We’re There When You Need Us”!
Photos: DarthArt, ilbusca, stevecoleimages
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