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Common Sense for Big Timber: an Environmental Satire

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Washington D.C.

With news that the Weyerhaeuser-Plum Creek merger could cost 750 people their jobs in Montana, U.S. Rep. Ryan Zinke (R-MT) introduced legislation late Monday requiring timber corporations who want to merge to post bonds with their merger proposal, simplifying corporate takeovers job loss analyses and allowing state governments to fund job training programs with the proceeds from the bonds.

“The National Forest Corporate Responsible Merger Act of 2015 will help address the two leading threats against our timber industry employees, predatory takeovers and corporate greed, without adding new regulations to communities and loggers or adding costs to taxpayers,” Zinke, R-Mont., said in a written statement.

“By implementing common-sense reforms to encourage responsible corporate behavior in the timber industry and discourage out-of-state special interests from waging war on Montana foresting communities, I am confident Montana can rebuild our economy and conserve our forests for generations to come instead of clearcutting them to improve the stock price of out of state timber corporations,” he said.

The bill text and number were not available at press time. But in his statement, Zinke said it would boost Montana’s workers by requiring  corporations to contribute to a revolving fund that the state could use to retrain workers in jobs that are in high demand.

It would also require analysis of corporate mergers proposed by the timber industry to job or no job alternatives, rather than how it would effect the stock price.  And it would require corporations who want to merge to post cash bonds to cover the societal costs of mergers such as job retraining and the cost of drinking and driving by laid off Plum Creek timber industry employees.

“Responsible corporate behavior in Montana is too important to leave to the profit motive,” Montana Tree Cutters Association executive director Doug Olsmen said in a statement. “Congressman Zinke’s bill includes common-sense reforms that strengthen workers’ protection against out-of-state corporations and helps protect our workers from investment bankers who make billions from mergers. Montana timber workers know they are in a dying industry and are committed to working with the government to retrain to compete in the 21st century. They know Montana does not have enough skilled workers to build local economies. Rep. Zinke’s reforms help us do just that.”

Alliance for the Wild Mountains director Michael Flarrity, who has been no fan of Zinke, the Forest Service, or the timber industry, said the bill would mean more and better Montana jobs.

“Corporations only care about money” Flarrity said. “Stopping illegal mergers doesn’t cost taxpayers money – it saves jobs.  Helping people get out of mind numbing jobs in timber mills saves brain cells.

Flarrity commended Zinke, “I thought Congressman Zinke was a Republican who did not support socialism. I was wrong”

Flarrity also called the bonding requirement constitutional.

“Of course it is constitutional.  People are just shocked a member of Congress actually wants to protect workers instead of screw them.  Up until now, only rich people had any future in Montana.  Now with the bond Zinke wants timber corporations to pay, timber workers can go back to school to get retrained in skilled jobs that are in high demand like electricians and welders,” Flarrity said.

Zinke’s bill is likely one of several reform measures aimed at the timber industry this year.

Montana Republican U.S. Sen. Steve Daines and Democratic U.S. Senator Jon Tester held listening sessions with forestry corporate CEOs on Wall Street last summer,  Neither have expressed any concerns for workers.

Other members of Congress have also declared their intention to make it even easier for corporations to fire workers.

Montana Lumber Products Association director Judy Elvemus said she saw a draft of Zinke’s bill yesterday, but hadn’t seen the final version yet. Even then, she said it would go through lots of negotiations.

“Remember, it’s going to have to have bipartisan support and get through the White House,” Elvemus said. “I hope people will keep their gun powder dry and not retreat and fight about it. We should try to get most of what everybody wants.”

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Michael Garrity is executive director of the Alliance for the Wild Rockies.

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