On May 16, 2013, the Subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife, Oceans and Insular Affairs (of the House Committee on Natural Resources) will hold an oversight hearing regarding the 2008 Amendments to the Lacey Act, a subject on which we posted a blog previously. The Lacey Act prohibits, among other things, trade in plants and plant products that have been taken, transported, or sold in violation of law, including the law of other countries. The hearing will focus on the effectiveness and efficiency of the Lacey Act, and will examine potential modifications to the law.
Last year -- driven in part by critics of a much-publicized seizure of illegal wood products from Gibson Guitar pursuant to the Lacey Act -- members of Congress proposed amendments that would change the scope and effect of the Act. Specifically, Congress considered limiting the Lacey Act's application to plants and plant products imported before the effective date of the 2008 amendments, narrowing the categories of plant-related foreign laws that trigger Lacey Act violations, and altering the forfeiture provision to include an "innocent owner" defense. Efforts to amend the Lacey Act fizzled after Gibson, with the United States Department of Justice reaching a Criminal Enforcement Agreement in which Gibson "accept[ed] and acknowledge[d] responsibility" for its actions and admitted that its management knew about the relevant Madagascar law that prohibited the export of most of the wood the U.S. government had seized. Gibson further conceded that it should have "exercised additional diligence." See here, here, and here for some of our previous pieces on the Gibson case and its resolution.
While no specific bills are currently under consideration, this new hearing suggests there may be renewed interest in limiting the scope of the Lacey Act and altering the related forfeiture provisions. Companies involved with wood or wood products (including paper) should stay tuned for a follow-up after the hearing.