Numerous Heritage research papers and postings on The Foundry in the past year have reported on the plight of Gibson Guitar, which has been accused by the Obama Administration of running afoul of the Lacey Act—one of the oldest U.S. environmental regulations. Gibson’s violations were deemed so severe that armed federal marshals entered its facilities in Nashville and Memphis in August 2011 and seized millions of dollars’ worth of guitars, which the government alleges may have been constructed of wood illegally harvested in Madagascar and India. As the months have dragged on with no charges yet filed in either case, however, it appears more and more that Gibson is the victim of a stunning example of regulatory overreach by the federal government.
In a recent interview with Todd Myers of the Washington Policy Center’s “Forest Certification Audit project,” Gibson President Henry Juszkiewicz reviewed his company’s environmental credentials and critiqued the impact of green certification schemes on American business. He complained that the Lacey Act, a regulation meant to prevent the use of illegally harvested wood, is severely flawed in practice, because it includes “no prescription for actually obeying the law.”
The ambiguity of the 100 year-old Lacey Act is beginning to attract attention from some in Congress. What remains largely under the radar, however, are questions Juszkiewicz raised in the interview as to whether recent amendments to the Act are being exploited to the benefit of domestic wood producers. Juszkiewicz believes the ambiguity of the rules isn’t an accident and argues that rather than protecting forests, the primary goal of the amendments is to protect domestic forestry product producers, noting that if “you make things risky enough, you are effectively outlawing importation, by making it ambiguous and risky.” Juszkiewicz points out that “80 percent” of the wood used by Gibson is certified by the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC). And yet, if this certified wood is found to have been mislabeled or inaccurate, companies like Gibson—not the certifiers—are the ones facing potentially devastating legal consequences.
Juszkiewicz’s critique of the Lacey Act should spur a long overdue public discussion about the role of the green movement in the certification process. Juszkiewicz should be lauded for highlighting the concerns of thousands of U.S. business owners about the potentially negative economic impact of the Obama Administration’s aggressive environmentalism.
The Gibson Guitar case underscores the many risks of politically charged certification schemes such as the FSC. Companies like Gibson embraced the green movement. Juszkiewicz serves on boards and is in partnerships with groups like Greenpeace and the Rainforest Alliance. And what did he get in return? A federal investigation.