Wood Innovation Will Strengthen Maine’s Rural Economy

 

 Maine’s forest products industry is a rich part of our history and continues to drive the economy in many parts of state. And while mill closures have caused uncertainty in communities throughout Maine, there is plenty of work to be done to support the forest products sector so we can grow our economy. Maine sits on a goldmine of fiber, and we need to encourage robust research and development of wood-based products to help this critical industry thrive in the 21st century.

 That’s why I joined with Senators Susan Collins, Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) to reintroduce the Timber Innovation Act, bipartisan legislation that aims to find new and innovative uses for wood as a building material. The legislation would accelerate the research and development of engineered wood for use in construction projects, focusing on the construction of buildings over 85 feet in height. 

While wood products have been an integral part of construction for centuries, most wood buildings do not exceed three to four stories in height. However, with recent developments in wood products engineering alongside other new technologies, it is now possible to expand the use of wood into larger construction projects.

 Building on that momentum, the Timber Innovation Act would incentivize investment through the National Forest Products Lab and American colleges and universities to conduct research and development on new methods for the construction of wood buildings. Additionally, the bill would support ongoing efforts at the United States Department of Agriculture to further encourage the use of wood products as a building material for tall buildings.

 Cross-laminated timber (CLT) is an exciting material that is sturdy, sustainable, and can be put up fast in major construction projects. CLT is a wood panel that has multiple layers of lumber and is perpendicularly layered (picture plywood but on an industrial scale). It is exceptionally strong and stable and sequesters a lot of carbon, making it more environmentally friendly than concrete and steel construction projects.

 With the many advantages that come with wood building, it is critical we elevate this opportunity, both at home and in Washington to encourage architects, developers, engineers, building code officials, and legislators to build with wood-based products. I recently met with a group of Maine architects to underscore the importance of building with CLT and to shine a light on this made-in-Maine construction material that is being advanced by innovative work at the University of Maine.

 Maine’s forest products industry has exciting potential to build on our traditions, harness the necessary resources for  innovation and help communities across our state grow. The Timber Innovation Act builds on the ongoing efforts that came about as a result of the interagency Economic Development Assessment Team’s work and will help Maine access new forest products markets by sparking research and development efforts for wood construction that will support rural economies, and benefit the environment by reducing carbon emissions, a win for everyone involved.