We’ve been having an interesting discussion based on Steve’s post about timber on federal lands. But I think underlying that is a deeper question. I also think that this discussion at the philosophical level may also be relevant to various other uses of federal land involving products.
Given, that we want to use products (say, build houses), protect the environment, and work on economic inequality, to what extent should we:
(1) Buy American/independence from other national entities
One philosophy is that if the US uses materials, then we should attempt to fill those needs here. For example, the Biden Admin supports “Buy American.” The idea is that we can control our own environmental regulations, our folks have jobs, we get to tax workers, corporations, real estate and so on, and use the taxes for good things, and so on. There are also concerns that being dependent on other countries for essentials can lead to negative national security implications.
BUT trade can reduce prices, and we all benefit from reduced prices, especially economically disadvantaged people.
So that’s a challenge to the “Buy American” idea. Except the low prices for everyone interact with blue collar jobs, taxes, international security and so on. That’s why the whole enchilada of trade policy is so complex, and doesn’t fall neatly along partisan political lines.
(2) Even if we agree with 1, there is still the question of “how much of the products we use, if any, should come from federal land?”. Now the Sierra Club has said a) “no commercial logging” so they must believe 0. Other answers include : b) only when it is a byproduct of ecological restoration, c) only when it’s a byproduct of restoration and/or fuel treatments. Another approach is d) to the extent that the land is capable and harvesting doesn’t unduly affect the environment. I think d is what we spend most of our time discussing, because TSW tends to be full of people knowledgeable about forest practices. It isn’t, therefore, surprising that the Sierra Club is/was against FSC certification for federal forests, because the practices don’t matter if you are philosophically against doing it at all.
Now what’s interesting to me is taking these same philosophical positions and relating them to oil and gas, mining, and wind and solar energy installations. All of these produce useful products for US citizens and all have environmental impacts.
- Should we do it in the US? Some would say no mining nor oil and gas, but yes to wind and solar.
- If we do it in the US, should we do it on federal lands? Some say no mining nor oil and gas but yes to wind and solar. Some say no to everything on federal lands.
It seems to me that the only philosophically consistent approach would be 1) yes to US preference, but no to federal lands; 2) no to US preference, and therefore no to federal lands and 3) yes to US and yes to federal lands with desired levels of local consent, environmental and worker regulations, and appropriate payments to the USG. The latter is where we spend most of our discussion time.
Still, there’s also question 3.
3) If we satisfy our own country’s demand (or not), should we allow exports from federal lands? This is another trade conundrum. Trade deficits are thought to be bad, and being able to export is good. Would that be a “trade barrier” to WTO? But we already have a log export ban from federal timberlands, which hasn’t been challenged as far as I know.
As Oscar Wilde said “Consistency is the last refuge of the unimaginative”. Still, I’m interested in where you all are philosophically and why.