Federal grants unfairly promote wood: Construction associations

Construction industry groups urge the White House to review federal funding for building materials research and projects. Photo © www.bigstockphoto.com
Construction industry groups urge the White House to review federal funding for building materials research and projects.
Photo © www.bigstockphoto.com

Several construction industry groups have asked Larry Kudlow, director of the National Economic Council (NEC), to review the use of taxpayer dollars to fund projects that supposedly promote one building material over others.

The American Concrete Pumping Association (ACPA), American Institute of Steel Construction (AISC), American Iron and Steel Institute (AISI), California Construction and Industrial Materials Association (CalCIMA), Concrete Reinforcing Steel Institute (CRSI), National Concrete Masonry Association (NCMA), National Ready Mixed Concrete Association (NRMCA), Oregon Concrete & Aggregate Producers Association (OCAPA), Portland Cement Association (PCA), Steel Framing Industry Association (SFIA), and Steel Manufacturers Association (SMA) communicated disappointment at the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA’s) awarding of more than $8.9 million in federal funds for 29 projects designed to expand markets for wood products, particularly mass timber, for building construction.

While acknowledging the increase in cross-laminated timber (CLT) projects domestically in recent years, the joint letter by the associations expressed concern about key questions that still exist about the performance of CLT on a large scale.

“While it is important to resolve the answers to these concerns, it is not appropriate for the federal government to provide funding to obtain them, nor to provide funding to advance those materials in the marketplace while those questions exist,” the letter says.

“We hope you agree that these grants unfairly promote, at taxpayer expense, one building material—mass timber—in the construction materials marketplace. This would advance an unbalanced promotional program for only timber products. In any event, the federal government should not be in the business of picking winners and losers among competing materials in the construction marketplace by so blatantly putting its thumb on the scale in favor of wood products,” the letter concludes.

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14 comments on “Federal grants unfairly promote wood: Construction associations”

  1. Seems to me that if a building material carries greater societal benefits over the materials it replaces, then the government should encourage its use. That’s the case with mass timber– derived from a renewable resource, stores atmospheric carbon and therefore has a much smaller carbon footprint, and provides a potentially huge market for fiber resulting from forest restoration efforts. Performance issues are largely non-existent and government support can help with the testing necessary to prove that. Given that we face significant climate change, population growth and resource deficiency problems, I applaud the government for supporting use of materials that can positively impact these issues.

    1. Sure wood can be a renewable resource, but not at the rate that it is being consumed. Think of all of the wood products out there and how little of it is actually harvested from responsible practices. The carbon footprint argument is also troublesome, since wood only collects CO2 from its respiration – while it is alive. Wood is only a green material when there are leaves attached. Once harvested, they release CO2. Studies suggest burying dead trees to create a CO2 sink, not build with it. Not to mention, peer reviewed research, not government incentives and lobbyists should determine what materials are responsible. I’m not saying wood has no place, all materials do. I am saying that it is reckless to give government advantages to on material over another – especially since it seems like CLT needs subsidies to compete financially with established systems.

      1. https://dovetailinc.org/report_pdfs/2012/dovetailcarbon101jan2012.pdf

        Page 8 under the section titled “The Carbon Equation and Production and Use of Forest Products” will inform you that 50% of the dry weight of wood (harvested wood) is carbon. And in fact, the ability for a tree to capture more carbon from the atmosphere declines as the tree ages. Therefore, through the combination of adequate forest management practices and engineers using mass wood products in buildings, we can sequester carbon for long periods of time in the wood used to make buildings as well as pull more carbon from the atmosphere by growing more trees. Of course these trees will have to be cultivated for harvest, but since their atmospheric carbon removal abilities hit an asymptote, this makes sense from a sustainability context.

    2. 100% agree, and to think, as if the traditional now established systems a la steel and concrete never received historical leg ups from the state in there long history… If it weren’t for Germany’s subsidizing of PV when it was young and expensive PV wouldn’t be cheaper than coal as it is today. That’s how Wright’s law works. The fact of the matter is the world is running out of sand, and steel contributes to around 5% and concrete around 8% of world GHG emissions…so why would the state not invest in alternatives that have proven performance.

  2. If you start promoting one material over another and then that material comes from a source outside of USA then I have much concern over this. We have regulations that keep this fair for taxpayers and specific money for single sourced materials is not then intention.

  3. So who determines societal benefit of the material? Let the market decide if mass timber is better. Cost will be the largest driver, but not the only driver. Keep the government out of it completely. If mass timber is worthwhile, let weyerhauser and GP and LP and whoever fund the R&D efforts

  4. The reality here is that these are Federal Grants not Federal Contracts for construction of Federal Buildings necessarily. The Government has responsibilities, providing a military to protect US citizen’s, etc. we have a Constitution to outline that, it is not to fund through grants a particular building material type/source. If a chosen design professional hired to design a Federal project, then he can defend his building material choice to the taxpayer. If these grants are attracting this type of attention, it is highly likely that some PAC is behind this, using a system of tax payer money to fund pet-projects for a chosen source. If such is true, shame on those involved, there are rules and laws that should be followed when it comes to use of taxpayer funds.

  5. Ironically all of the groups (who are also PACs) that are opposed to USDA grants are happy to take federal grant money to advance their industries. Would they be opposed to improving termite resistance in woods? Consider how much advancement in concrete is due to federal transportation research grants. The Government has a legitimate place in the market to advance the use of materials that benefit our society.

  6. Why on Earth would the Department of Agriculture promote anything other than agricultural products?

  7. The intent whether obvious or cloaked is to promote sustainability. Wood is not the only sustainable product or practice and if overused can deplete the sources planted decades ago to provide today’s construction material. Also, farmed timber has displaced the ecological diversity of virgin forests, many which are on Federal land. that’s a negative on sustainable practice. If grant funding is provided to managed forestry then it should be provided as well to improve the manufacturing of all core construction raw materials such as steel, aluminum, cement, glass, aggregates, asphalt, and resulting concrete products produced. This is not a bad approach, but needs to be expanded.

    1. It actually is not to promote sustainability. It is a lobby to gain momentum for CLT so it can appear to be affordable. These projects need subsidies in order to get built in many cases. USDA has a unique relationship with the wood industry that no other building material has with any other government organization.

  8. I feel that this arguement, as presented, is one-sided. How much in grant money and federal funds have these associations or projects supported by these associations received? More facts are needed.

  9. This process is no different than the government subsidizing all kinds of products and technology over others. It happens all the time. Its not fair, but it has been the norm for decades. I say let the market decide if the technology can prove itself competitive with concrete and steel. And let concrete and steel formulate their own studies on how sustainable they are so we can see that side of it from a “Carbon Credit” standpoint. I hate to say it, but this is the “Green Movement” run amok to insure carbon reduction at all costs, even before a competitive comparison can be done.

  10. The Pacific Northwest Building Resilience Coalition has proven conclusively that many of the environmental and climate-friendly claims made in support of mass timber use for high rise buildings are either completely false or exaggerated misrepresentation of the facts. Devastating our forest lands to produce a building product that is more expensive than concrete or steel and far less resilient to the growing threats of climate change is wrong. See http://bit.ly/2Zoua7O

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