MERCER, Wis. - U.S. Rep. Sean Duffy, R-Wausau, listened to concerns from Action Floors of Mercer, Bessemer Plywood and others in the wood products industry Friday morning in Mercer.
Action Floors owner Dan Corullo told Duffy issues facing the industry are critical. "When we built the plant, 40 percent of raw materials came from national forest land," Corullo said. "Today, we get 2 percent."
Corullo said 40 percent of the raw material used is imported from Canada.
Part of the problem, Corullo said, started in the 1990s when former President Bill Clinton slashed the forest budget and parks and recreation people were hired to manage national forest land, rather than foresters.
Duffy said it is unlikely that control over national forest land will be given to county or state governments because of pushback from environmental groups.
Corullo said in Wisconsin, many forest products businesses have gone out of business, or will go out of business, if something isn't done soon.
Pete Perkovich, vice president of Bessemer Plywood, said his plant uses 40,000 cords of aspen each year, and has trouble getting it. He said if the company can't get access to the wood, customers will go elsewhere.
Corullo said he has "sawdust in his veins," but if the company needs to switch to synthetic flooring, it will, although many employees would be laid off from Action Floors, which employs more than 100.
Duffy said in the current political environment, he didn't think the federal government would move on the issue of national forest control, and it wasn't likely control would be handed over to states or local governments to manage. "Don't put all your eggs in one basket," he said.
Tom Abendroth, partial owner of Action Floors, said environmentalists are slowing wood procurement down, and the environmental impact of transporting raw material over long distances is greater than the impact of logging forest land closer to home.
Corullo said 75 percent of forest fires out West are on federal lands, and fighting those fires has to be included in the federal budget.
Abendroth said fire hazards are caused by overgrowth of forests. "A majority of the public doesn't understand that," he said.
Duffy said putting faces to the stories of people impacted by losing jobs in the industry had to start locally. "You guys have to help with that," he said.
Corullo asked Duffy for suggestions.
"Great bills don't come from Washington, D.C.," Duffy said, because lawmakers don't have the knowledge of industry insiders.
Corullo said the wood boiler Action Floors uses has helped the company obtain a negative carbon footprint. "We're really proud of our boiler," he said, but boiler regulations from the Environmental Protection Agency endanger his industry.
"How green would it be to send 10 semi loads of wood waste to landfills per week?" Corullo asked, instead of burning it in the boiler to provide heat to the facility and heat the dry kilns.
Duffy said he doesn't think the EPA cares if jobs are lost in Mercer.