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Opinion: California AB 416 Threatens Critical Housing Initiative and Impedes Environmental Progress

California has made important strides to address home affordability and to be a leader in environmental sustainability. Just last week, Governor Newsom pledged to expand housing production in California with a suite of bills intended to address the interrelated challenges related to environmental policies and housing affordability.

However, the California Deforestation-Free Procurement Act (AB 416) could significantly disrupt Governor Newsom’s laudable housing objectives.

As passed, AB 416 is counterproductive to boosting housing supply. Namely, because the legislation ignores the fact that sustainable, working U.S. and Canadian forests provide numerous benefits to the environment and local communities.

To be clear, the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) and the Forest Products Association of Canada (FPAC) fully support the proposed legislation’s intention to ensure that wood products, particularly those from tropical regions, are ethically sourced, sustainably managed, and of high quality.

A healthy forest products industry goes hand-in-hand with healthy forests. In the U.S. and Canada, the vast majority of wood used to produce paper and wood products is sourced from sustainably managed forests. Additionally, third-party and robust certification programs already exist and are utilized to meet forest management standards.

More recently, the UN’s Food and Agriculture Organization recognized the important role that sustainable forest management plays in addressing carbon reduction goals. As it currently stands, AB 416 ignores the fact that the United States and Canada’s forestry laws align with the UN’s definition of Sustainable Forest Management. It also fails to recognize that our forest sector is built on key principles of sustainability.

If signed into law, AB 416 would make it far more difficult to achieve affordable housing goals by limiting the supply of sustainability-sourced wood and other forest products, increase the cost of wood and other forest products, hurt labor interests, and reduce competition.

This legislation would also have unintended consequences for products made with recycled content. Surprisingly, recycled content is not exempt from the bill’s reporting requirements.

Recycled paper and packaging fibers can be reused five to seven times to make new products. It is impossible for manufacturers to determine the original source of the fiber used in their products. That’s because it has likely already been recovered and recycled into new products several times before being used by that manufacturer to make its paper product. As a result, state agencies would have great difficulty procuring recycled content products when no vendor can reasonably prove the original source of its recovered fiber.

Americans and Canadians share common interests in building back a post-pandemic economy that will propel us toward a sustainable future.

We welcome efforts to recognize the important role that sustainable forest management will play in advancing this vision, however, AB 416 fails to achieve this goal. Furthermore, California is the outlier. No other state has passed this type of burdensome legislation.

Governor Gavin Newsom should veto this bill.

Heidi Brock is the President and CEO of the America Forest & Paper Association.

Derek Nighbor is the President and CEO of Forest Products Association of Canada.

The American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) serves to advance U.S. paper and wood products manufacturers through fact-based public policy and marketplace advocacy. The forest products industry is circular by nature. AF&PA member companies make essential products from renewable and recycle resources, generate renewable bioenergy and are committed to continuous improvement through the industry’s sustainability initiative—Better Practices, Better Planet 2030: Sustainable Products for a Sustainable Future. The forest products industry accounts for approximately four percent of the total U.S. manufacturing GDP, manufactures nearly $300 billion in products annually and employs approximately 950,000 people. The industry meets a payroll of approximately $60 billion annually and is among the top 10 manufacturing sector employers in 45 states. Visit AF&PA online at afandpa.org or follow us on Twitter @ForestandPaper.