The Recreation Vehicle Industry Association (RVIA) is working with a coalition of wood producers, suppliers and other manufacturing and retail groups to enact reforms to The Lacey Act, which criminalizes trade in protected species of animals and plants, including potentially wood used in the manufacture of RVs and other products.
“In the three years since the Lacey Act was amended to cover plant and plant products, countless American businesses may have been unknowingly breaking the law by buying or transporting commonly imported plant and plant products, potentially including wood used in manufacturing RVs,” Matt Wald, RVIA’s director of government affairs, said in a press release. “Rather than attempting to list the species to be protected or delegate that task to regulators, Congress simply barred the importation or sale of any plant or animal taken in violation of any law anywhere.”
Section 3372, (a)(2)(B) of The Lacey Act reads, “It is unlawful for any person to import, export, transport, sell, receive, acquire, or purchase in interstate or foreign commerce any plant taken, possessed, transported, or sold in violation of any law or regulation of any State, or any foreign law, that protects plants.”
The only clarity that the U.S. Department of Justice has provided is contained in a letter to Congress, stating that an individual or company “unknowingly possessing a musical instrument or other object containing wood that was illegally taken” would not face criminal charges. This letter did not clarify whether products containing wood that was illegally taken will be seized. In the case of Gibson Guitars, in one of the few enforcement actions taken under the new authority of the Lacey Act, products deemed to be in violation of the Lacey Act were indeed seized by the federal government despite the fact that Gibson had no way of knowing that the product they were using was in violation of the Lacey Act.
“The Lacey Act was meant to give federal agencies the power to go after criminal enterprises that were knowingly trading in illegally sourced plant and plant products, but by making the scope of laws and products covered by Lacey so vast, Congress made it virtually impossible for law-abiding companies to comply – thereby creating unknowing and unintended ‘criminals’ out of honest, law-abiding business owners and consumers,” said Wald.
The problem of this virtually limitless scope can be easily addressed, according to RVIA. The Lacey Act should be revised to be more focused and more transparent about the foreign laws that can give rise to a violation under U.S. law. In addition, the federal government should identify in advance the foreign plant protection laws that are the subject of concern, so that businesses can meaningfully perform due diligence on their supply chains with respect to those specific laws, rather than on open-ended and potentially unknowable list of foreign laws that creates unlimited and unknowable potential liability for RV manufacturers and all American businesses that use and/or sell imported wood and other plant products.
Most critically, the Lacey Act should provide that “innocent owners” (those who have neither knowledge of any wrongdoing regarding the origin of the plant product nor intent to break the law) are not liable to prosecution nor seizure of finished goods.