The Lacey Act: Protecting Jobs and the Environment

American jobs and environmental safeguards are two themes dominating the political discourse here in Washington, DC lately, and the two are often wrongly pitted against each other.  Republicans recently released a memo outlining the top ten regulations they believe are “job-destroying,” many of which are environmental in nature.  Last Friday, topping off two weeks of civil disobedience demonstrations against the proposed Keystone XL Pipeline, President Obama gave into the myth that there’s a trade-off between jobs and public health and environmental standards when he decided not to pursue ozone regulations. Fortunately, however, in his much-anticipated job speech last night the president rejected the claim that environmental protections and jobs are mutually exclusive.  In fact, environmental regulations can be key in safeguarding jobs.   One particularly successful piece of legislation that protects the environment –at home and abroad—while protecting American jobs is the Lacey Act.

First written in 1900 to protect against illegal wildlife trade, the Lacey Act was amended in 2008 to prohibit all trade of illegally-sourced plants and their products. It explicitly made it illegal to “import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire or purchase in interstate or foreign commerce” any plant or plant product in violation of any U.S. State or foreign law that protects plants.  This groundbreaking addition expanded the original Act to become a powerful tool in combating illegal logging around the globe, for example, in Peru’s Amazon Rainforest, where the illegal logging of endangered old-growth mahogany had been rampant.  For a more thorough explanation of the Lacey Act, see this excellent Fact Sheet from the Environmental Investigation Agency.

How does Lacey support American jobs?  Illegally-sourced foreign wood and wood products coming into the U.S. undercuts the domestic market and lowers prices, hurting American lumber companies that play by the rules.  Lacey creates an even playing field by preventing the market from being flooded by an illegal supply – a problem which is estimated to cost the U.S. industry $1 billion annually.  The U.S. logging and timber industry saw that, and was a key voice in Lacey’s passage.

The Lacey Act is one example of how environmental regulations can protect American jobs.  Lacey’s success in cutting down on illegal logging and industry’s support for it demonstrates that environmental safeguards can bring benefits to U.S. businesses while protecting the very natural resources –at home and abroad—upon which those businesses and many communities rely.