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Schatz, Braun, Blumenauer, Fitzpatrick Introduce Bipartisan Legislation To Help Stop Illegal Deforestation Around The World, Fight Climate Change

FOREST Act Restricts Products From Illegally Deforested Land From Entering U.S. Markets

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Brian Schatz (D-Hawai‘i) and Mike Braun (R-Ind.) and U.S. Representatives Earl Blumenauer (D-Ore.), and Brian Fitzpatrick (R-Pa.) introduced the Fostering Overseas Rule of Law and Environmentally Sound Trade (FOREST) Act, bipartisan legislation that creates a framework for the federal government to deter commodity-driven illegal deforestation around the world. The FOREST Act restricts access to U.S. markets for commodities originating from illegally deforested land, reducing the incentive to sacrifice forests for agriculture use and using this market leverage to improve laws, monitoring, and enforcement in countries experiencing illegal deforestation. The United Kingdom and the European Union have recently enacted similar measures to fight deforestation.

“Products of illegal deforestation are everywhere. Half of the products in American grocery stores contain palm oil and most of that is coming from illegally deforested land around the world,” said Senator Schatz. “Illegal deforestation is threatening local communities and wildlife and is a major driver of climate change. American consumers are unknowingly and unintentionally driving this destruction, and our bill will help put an end to that.”

“The FOREST Act stops imported products that were created through illegal deforestation. This bill will help fight an international commodity-driven crime that subsidizes foreign competition and preserve at-risks forests around the world,” said Senator Braun.

“Illegal logging threatens our most vulnerable forests and wildlife, intensifies the climate crisis, and exploits Indigenous people. American consumers should not have to worry if they are unintentionally contributing to this destruction. Building on the success of the Lacey Act amendments, our bipartisan legislation works to bring us closer to ending illegal deforestation for good,” said Representative Blumenauer.

“Illegal deforestation poses a grave threat to our environment and our planet,” said Representative Fitzpatrick. “I am proud to join Representative Blumenauer (OR-03) and Senators Schatz (HI) and Braun (IN) in reintroducing the FOREST Act. Our bipartisan, bicameral legislation establishes a commonsense framework for the U.S. government to combat this commodity-driven crime and provides greater transparency for American consumers. By using the market-based tools at our disposal, the U.S. can ensure that it responsibly contributes to reducing greenhouse gas emissions, improving species biodiversity, and protecting critical habitats around the globe.”

Deforestation accounts for about 10 percent of the world’s annual greenhouse gas emissions, with nearly 40 percent of all tropical deforestation the result of illegal clearing. Driven primarily by the cultivation of cattle, soy, palm oil, and wood products, illegal deforestation is often associated with corruption, organized crime, and human rights abuses. The FOREST Act builds on the success of the Lacey Act, which prohibits the trade of wildlife and timber from illegal sources, to protect biodiversity and ecosystem resilience in the face of a changing climate. By reducing deforestation, the FOREST Act will also reduce the chances of new global pandemics. Specifically the bill:

  • Creates a risk-based framework for increasing transparency and reporting in companies’ international supply chains;
  • Provides financial and technical assistance that enable countries, companies, and the U.S. federal government to coordinate solutions to reduce illegal deforestation;
  • Incorporates deforestation in financial crime statutes so the Unites States can prosecute those who use the proceeds from deforestation to fund other criminal or terrorist enterprises; and
  • Establishes a purchasing preference for the federal government for deforestation-free products.

The framework creates a whole-of-government approach, drawing on expertise from the U.S. Trade Representative, Customs and Border Protection, U.S. Agency for International Development, and the Departments of State, Justice, the Interior, and Agriculture. The bill also creates a standing advisory committee to bring the expertise of companies and civil society into the process. Companies have long worked on the ground in foreign countries to reduce deforestation, while numerous non-profit organizations have partnered with the U.S. government to identify and provide information about illegal activities related to deforestation. The advisory committee ensures program implementation will be informed by these experiences and expertise.

“As a major importer of the agricultural products driving deforestation and habitat loss worldwide, the United States needs to lead the way in protecting and conserving the world’s remaining forests, supporting other countries’ efforts to halt illegal deforestation, and leveling the playing field for law-abiding producers. The FOREST Act aims to do just that by ensuring that the agricultural products that reach our shores don’t fuel the illegal clearing of forests around the world,” said Kerry Cesareo, Senior Vice President for Forests at the World Wildlife Fund.

“This groundbreaking bipartisan legislation, if enacted, would establish the U.S. as a leader in global efforts to halt deforestation and associated environmental crime, while ensuring that responsible, law-abiding U.S. businesses do not face unfair competition from illegally produced goods entering the U.S. market. This legislation is a win for American consumers and farmers, the world’s forests, and the livelihoods, biodiversity and climate these forests support.  There is no time to lose; we urge Congress to swiftly pass the FOREST Act,” said Alexander von Bismarck, Executive Director of the Environmental Investigation Agency U.S.

“The bipartisan FOREST Act provides the Biden administration a chance at fulfilling a significant piece of its pledge to address the United States’ deforestation footprint, taking meaningful action on climate change, international crime and support for the rights of Indigenous Peoples and local communities. Forests support the livelihoods of billions of people around the world, and critical biodiversity required for a safe environment and economic prosperity. The FOREST Act, if enacted, would provide the regulatory backbone to decades of United States programs supporting developing countries’ efforts in combatting environmental crime and halting deforestation. The FOREST Act would complement efforts by other world leaders in ending financial incentives for illegal deforestation, supporting free and fair economies, and halting the persecution of Indigenous Peoples and forest-dependent communities,” said Peter Graham, Managing Director of Policy and Research at Climate Advisers.

The FOREST Act is supported by U.S. Cattlemen’s Association, R-CALF, National Wildlife Federation, World Wildlife Fund, The Nature Conservancy, Environmental Investigation Agency, Conservation International, and Financial Accountability and Corporate Transparency (FACT) Coalition.

The full text of the bill is available here.