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Timber Talk 12/9/13

Posted By John Dorka, Monday, December 09, 2013

Truck Issues
This past week, a number of truck issues came up.  One included a township passing a resolution to require that logging companies must sign a road repair agreement if they want to operate on a township road in that township during any time of the year.  The action by the Township is illegal and may well be unconstitutional.  In addition to that action, the township has drafted a road repair agreement template that can only be described as faulty.   There are also rumblings from the Statehouse that a legislator is looking at potential legislation that would give county and township officials broad authority to regulate local roads far beyond current authority levels.  That is an issue that bears watching closely as anything that gives local officials more regulatory authority on roads could lead to very onerous regulations and patchwork gridlock.

BWC News
Here are two announcements from CareWorks Consultants, Inc. (CCI), the third party provider of OFA’s Workers’ Compensation Group Safety Program.  The first talks about the value of local quality health care providers and how they can help injured workers return to work more quickly.  CCI says that it can advise participants on names of quality local healthcare providers.  The second talks about the value of returning to work as soon as possible following an injury.  Statistics show that if injured workers do not return to work within 6 months of the injury, there is only a 50% chance of returning to work successfully.  After a year, the percentage drops below 25%.  Employers are encouraged to stay in contact with injured workers and to consider options for alternative work arrangements during recovery periods.  Both articles contain contact information for CCI if there are questions.  

Ohio Legislative News
Plans for Medicaid Savings - With the expansion of Medicaid which will be funded by the federal government for 3 years, Ohio is expected to save $400 million per year in general funds. Most in the Republican-held legislature believe that the money should be returned to the tax payers via an enhanced income tax cut. However, at least one Republican legislator, Rep. Terry Boose (R-Norwalk) is joining Rep. Ron Gerberry (D-Austintown) to pitch a proposal to use the money to reverse recent budget cuts to local governments. It is anticipated that the money could result in an additional 4% savings on state income taxes. However, Rep. Boose, who was a former County Commissioner, believes that the money would be better spent helping to alleviate the impact of additional tax revenue losses to local governments from the proposed municipal tax overhaul currently in the legislature.
Energy Bill, SB 58 - A compromise version of SB 58 which earlier took out provisions that would have allowed Canadian hydropower to earn Ohio renewable energy credits (RECs) to meet renewable portfolio standards will now include Ohio river hydro-power plants that have been in place for decades. The substitute version, which was unveiled following Thanksgiving, would still allow Canadian hydro-power as long as it is "deliverable” to the PJM territory. Currently, it is not deliverable but is expected to be sometime in the future when connection lines below Lake Erie are complete. Wind power advocates remain opposed to any version that allows any renewable energy source that was installed prior to the enactment of the law, arguing that SB 221, passed in 2008, was intended to encourage "new” sources of   renewable energy. There is concern that if these sources are allowed, it will lower energy costs and make it unfeasible to build new alternative energy facilities. Compromise versions of the bill have allowed other alternative sources like coalmine methane, waste heat recovery technology, combined heat and power facilities at some universities as well as one for AK Steel. Wind power advocates believe that Ohio River hydropower will simply be another allowance that will eventually harm or destroy the budding wind power industry. Groups supporting the new compromise version are the Ohio Chamber of Commerce, National Federation of Independent Businesses Ohio, Ohio Steel Council, Industrial Energy Users-Ohio, and the Ohio Energy Group. Opposed to the bill are the Ohio Manufacturers Association and consumer advocacy organizations who believe that any changes to energy efficiency requirements will ultimately lead to higher energy costs.
Update on SB 58 - Senate Public Utilities Committee Chairman Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) cancelled the vote on SB 58, Energy Efficiency, last week and announced a new plan to address what he views as "enviro-socialist mandates” on state renewable energy standards. Part of his new plan is to challenge by litigation the in-state requirements for renewable energy and to renew hearings on SB 34, Renewable Energy, sponsored by Sen. Kris Jordan (R-Powell) which would eliminate Ohio’s clean energy law. Advocates for renewable energy were happy to hear of the cancelled vote on SB 58 and see it as a set-back for those wanting to change Ohio’s renewable energy standards. There remains broad disagreement among interested parties over how current and proposed laws will affect electric rates for consumers in the future. Those opposed to the renewable energy standards believe the current energy laws will lead to higher prices, while those advocating for renewable energy believe the changes now being proposed will lead to higher prices. The issue appears long from being over.
House Bill 375 Introduced for an Oil and Gas Severance Tax Increase - HB 375, Oil and Gas Severance Tax, sponsored by Rep. Matt Huffman (R-Lima) was introduced in the House last week would increase the oil and gas severance tax. The increase would amount to about two-thirds the increase proposed by the Kasich Administration in the last biennium budget which the oil and gas industry vehemently opposed. This proposal is supported by the industry. It is estimated that this proposal will produce an estimated $1.7 billion in tax revenue over the next 10 years.  The proposal increases the severance tax for new, high production wells and would decrease the tax on conventional wells, and the full impact of the taxes would be phased in over a number of years. The revenue from the tax increase would be directed to three purposes: another income tax cut, the state’s orphan well program, and more funding for the ODNR oil and gas regulatory program.

Support for H.R. 2807, The Conservation Easement Incentive Act
OFA elected to be a co-signer on a coalition letter in support of the Conservation Easement Incentive Act, H.R. 2807.  Current law allows landowners who donate conservation easements on their woodlands to deduct up to 100% of their income and carry forward the remaining value of their donation for up to 15 years as an incentive to keep working forests in woodlands.  This incentive was enacted in 2006 and has been renewed 3 times, but remains in a temporary status.  There is interest to make the tax incentive permanent.  HR 2807 would do that.  The letter is encouraging other Congressional representatives to become sponsors of the bill.

Hardwood Checkoff Public Comment Continues
The USDA published the proposed rule for the Hardwood Lumber and Hardwood Plywood Promotion, Research, and Information Order in the federal register on November 13. There is a 60 day public comment period during which anyone can provide comments on the proposed "Hardwood Checkoff” Program. The order explains how the program would work. It can only be implemented if more than 50% of the eligible hardwood lumber and plywood manufacturers agree by vote to allow the voluntary fee to be assessed on the hardwood manufactured products. Those commenting have until January 13, 2014 to provide comments, which can be done on-line at the USDA Agricultural Marketing Service website. Comments can also be submitted in writing or by FAX here: Promotion and Economics Division, Fruit and Vegetable Program, AMS, USDA, 1400 Independence Avenue SW., Room 1406-S, Stop 0244, Washington, DC 20250-0244; facsimile: (202) 205-2800.

OSHA Plans New Workplace Injury Reporting Requirements
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) is planning new rules that would require that employers subject to injury reporting requirements submit their reports directly to OSHA which will then post the records on-line in a searchable database.  Current practice is that employers are required to record workplace injuries but do not have to submit them to OSHA as general practice.  Injury information need only be posted in locations accessible to employees.  New regulations if enacted will change that.  Employers with 20 or more employees will have to electronically report injuries to OSHA annually; those 250 or more employees who are required to keep records will have to submit them on a quarterly basis.

SOFA December Newsletter
For your interest, here is the December 2013 Southern Ohio Forestland Association Newsletter.  Included in the newsletter is information on the November 14 general member meeting, during which there was an "Open Mic Night” for members to raise questions and issues, the estate tax impact on forest landowners, and coming meetings and events.

Wood: A Better Way to Build
Some of you may have seen this already, but here is a video titled, Wood: A Better Way to Build, developed with support from the USDA Forest Service Forest Products Laboratory.  You can find it on the American Forest Foundation website.  It talks about the value of wood as a building product, its environmental benefits, and the interconnectedness between forests, landowners, and the industry.  If you haven’t seen it, it’s worth a few minutes to review. 
Dues Notice Mix-up
Just another quick note of apology to the members who were caught up in our mistake on dues notices last week. Many of you were recently sent reminders of non-payment when in fact we had not yet even sent out dues notices. We messed up, and I’m sorry for the confusion it caused you.   
2014 OFA Annual Meeting, March 5-6 at the
Columbus Sheraton Hotel on Capital Square

Plans are proceeding for the 2014 OFA Annual Meeting which will be held once again in downtown Columbus at the Columbus Sheraton Hotel across from the statehouse. There will be a legislative reception at the statehouse similar to the event last year late afternoon of March 5. The meeting the following day will be at the Sheraton Hotel. The theme of the meeting is "Regulations Affecting Ohio’s Forest Industry.”  We have invited Governor Kasich to provide the keynote address the morning of March 6. We are working on presentations about regulations in place or planned that will affect your forest product operation and things affecting forestry in Ohio, including the Affordable Care Act, Invasive Species, the Farm Bill, and EPA and OSHA regulations affecting your manufacturing processes. We will also have an awards luncheon recognizing OFA Annual Award winners and the Ohio Tree Farmer of the Year. Work is in play to bring back the traditional Tree Farm silent action, so if you would like to donate to that cause, please let us know.  For more information, contact Gayla at 614-497-9580, ext. 5.

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