On March 7, Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D–Mich.) and Rep. Suzan DelBene (D–Wash.–1) both introduced the Timber Innovation Act, advocating for tall wood building construction—structures built with mass timber at a minimum of 85 feet tall—to the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives after a similar bills expired in 2016. The bill outlines the various steps that the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) propose, which includes: conducting research on innovative wood products; collaborating with the wood-products industry to create clear goals; establishing grants for higher education institutions, individuals, and local and state entities for wood products research; and facilitating a Tall Wood Building Prize competition over the next five years.
“Building construction using wood and mass timber products directly supports jobs in areas of rural America that have yet to recover from the recession and would lessen our dependence on fossil-fuel intensive alternatives,” said American Wood Council president and CEO Robert Glowinski in a press release. “Having the federal government encourage further development of this emerging construction technology stands to benefit and enhance both infrastructure development and putting people to work.”
According to the Senate bill, research, development, and education will prioritize improved commercialization of innovative wood products, understanding the safety of the materials, and research on the environmental footprint of related materials and the environmental impact of such structures on wildlife. The proposed legislation also directly calls for retrofitting or utilizing sawmill facilities in areas with heightened unemployment rates (specifically those exceeding 1 percent higher than the national average).
“Mass-timber technology is revolutionizing and disrupting the way buildings are being built around the world,” said Binational Softwood Lumber Council general manager Cees de Jager in the press release. “Unfortunately, the United States has been trailing other markets in this regard.”
The Timber Innovation Act was introduced a couple weeks after a developer in New York axed plans for a 10-story mass-timber condominium, designed by SHoP Architects, citing funding issues. The bill, which calls for a five-year timeline for the research and development components of the legislation, has been referred to the Senate committee on agriculture, nutrition, and forestry.