Government policies must support American free enterprise

The annual State of the Union address helps bring focus to the agenda in Washington, D.C., and last night was no exception. Topics like job creation, economic growth, innovative manufacturing, trade agreements, energy, and environmental policies are on the minds of business men and women across the country. The U.S. paper and wood products manufacturing industry is proud of its achievements in these areas and our contributions to the American economy, and we hope government policies – whether by executive order, legislation or regulation – will reflect the strength of the American free enterprise system and unleash the power of the marketplace to bring stronger economic growth in the coming year. 

Environmental policies and regulations are an important part of the government’s function. To work in the long-term, they must be achievable and affordable – meeting economic needs, environmental concerns, and social expectations.

Our industry is a leader in sustainability. We depend on a renewable resource – trees – for the products we make and the bioenergy we use to run our mills. As forests grow, trees remove carbon dioxide (CO2) from the atmosphere and convert it to organic carbon, which will return to the atmosphere regardless of whether it is burned for energy or lost through biodegradation or in a forest fire. We harness the energy value of the CO2 on site before it escapes by using carbon-neutral biomass to produce, on average, about two-thirds of the energy our members use. And a recent study shows the greenhouse gas (GHG) reduction benefits of our industry’s use of biomass residuals are enormous – equivalent to removing 40 million cars from the road. Our industry is part of the solution. Regulations should reflect the role we play in the sustainable carbon cycle – not add to business uncertainty that curbs investment in innovations.

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The U.S. paper and wood products manufacturing industry is prepared to do more through voluntary, self-directed initiatives. Between 2005 and 2010, American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) members reduced their GHG emissions by 10.5 percent and have a goal to reduce those emissions by at least 15 percent by 2020. On energy efficiency, AF&PA members have seen an 8.1 percent improvement in their purchased energy efficiency since 2005 and are committed to reach at least 10 percent by 2020. These are just two of several industry-led initiatives that show U.S. paper and wood products manufacturers are contributing to a more sustainable future through innovative thinking and advancements in environmental performance.

Our country is replete with opportunities for high-skill, family-wage, green jobs, but we must create a policy environment in which employers can operate to continue down this path. Our industry employs nearly 900,000 men and women in the U.S., meeting a payroll of approximately $50 billion annually and accounting for approximately 4.5 percent of the total U.S. manufacturing gross domestic product. 

We stand ready to work with the administration and Congress to reform and improve the regulatory system to equip it for 21st century challenges. Subsidizing new jobs and innovation at the expense of existing success is not even a zero-sum game. The American free enterprise system is the greatest engine for economic growth and freedom the world has ever known, and we are optimistic about our future. 


Donna Harman is president and chief executive officer of the American Forest & Paper Association (AF&PA) and is recognized by industry leaders and policymakers alike as one of the leading experts on public policy concerning the pulp, paper, packaging, and wood products manufacturing industry.