Timber Innovation Act Introduced to Senate and House

In the construction of tall buildings, steel and concrete dominate. Iconic buildings from the Empire State Building and Wills Tower to Trump International Hotel and Tower and the Chrysler Building were all constructed from these two popular building materials.

A new bill hopes to add wood to the mix of building materials used to construct tall buildings. The Timber Innovation Act (S. 538 and H.R. 1380) was introduced in the Senate and the House on March 7.

The bill aims to create legislation to accelerate the research and development of wood for use in construction projects, focusing on the construction of buildings as tall as 85 feet high.

“Wood is currently underutilized in the construction of taller buildings in the U.S., despite recent innovations in engineering that have expanded the use of wood as a safe and sustainable building material,” said bill cosponsor Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-MI). “The Timber Innovation Act is an exciting opportunity to increase the use of wood in commercial building construction, benefitting both timberland owners and the forestry industry at large.”

The Timber Innovation Act was originally introduced as Bill S. 2892 in 2016. The bill expired when the last Congress ended and was reintroduced this session.

The bill has strong bipartisan support in both the Senate and the House.

Senators Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Jim Risch (R-ID), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Susan Collins (R-ME), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Roger Wicker (R-MS), Jeff Merekly (D-OR), Steve Daines (R-MT) Angus King (I-ME), Gary Peters (D-MI) and Jon Tester (D-MT) introduced the Senate bill.

Reps. Suzan DelBene (D-WA), Glenn Thompson (R-PA), Derek Kilmer (D-WA), Cathy McMorris-Rodgers (R-WA), Ann McLane Kuster (D-NH), Bruce Westerman (R-AR), Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Ralph Abraham (R-LA), Kurt Schrader (D-OR), Steven Palazzo (R-MS), Rick Larsen (D-WA), Gregg Harper (R-MS), Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Peter Welch (D-VT) introduced the bill in the House.

The bill has also garnered the support of 100 outside stakeholders, including American Forest Management, Binational Softwood Lumber Council, The Forest Stewards Guild and The Conservation Fund.

The American Forest Foundation also supports the bill. CEO Tom Martin believes the legislation will give woodlot owners the tools to generate income from their properties while maintaining them as forests and protecting them from development.

“The bill brings technology used in other parts of the world [where tall wood buildings are the norm] to the United States and provides a market to use American wood products to build mid-and high-story buildings,” Martin says.

Currently, building codes hinder the use of wood in tall building projects. The Timber Innovation Act would establish research and development programs to advance tall wood building construction and create federal grants to support architects and builders to accelerate building with wood. Moreover, the legislation would support timber growers.

“By increasing the use of wood in these large-scale building projects, we’re keeping loggers at work in the woods and helping to sustain our forested communities,” Stabenow says.

The legislation could also help struggling rural communities. In a press release, Robert Glowinski, president and CEO of the American Wood Council, noted, “Building construction using wood and mass timber products directly supports jobs in areas of rural America that have yet to recover from the recession and would…enhance both infrastructure development and putting people to work.”

Although there is no timeline for a vote, the co-sponsors hope it will be voted on—and enacted—promptly.

Martin is hopeful that support from both Republicans and Democrats coupled with widespread support from industry will help the Timber Innovation Act go from a bill to legislation.

“It hits the sweet spot of creating good markets, supporting landowners and supporting conservation,” Martin says. “We’re hopeful it will pass.”

Read more: Pennsylvania Eases Tax Burden on Logging Equipment