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Three Congressional Bills Respond to Western Wildfires

Two GOP bills and one bipartisan Senate bill hope to reduce the wildfire risk in the West. The "Wildfires Management Act of 2017" is sponsored by the two Republican senators of Idaho and three of the four Democratic senators of Washington and Oregon.
October 30, 2017, 11am PDT | Irvin Dawid
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Wine Country Fires
The National Guard

The first of the three bills is H.R. 2936, the "Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017," introduced by Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.), which Congress will vote on next week, said Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif, in a Washington Post article by Matthew Daly, AP's Congressional reporter, on Oct. 26.

"The Resilient Federal Forests Act is the only solution on the table to bend the cost curve of fire suppression and prevent wildfires from becoming uncontrollable, life-threatening calamities," said Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) in an Oct. 26 press release by the House Committee on Natural Resources.

However, Democrats and environmentalists see the bill as a means to sanction clear-cutting and eliminate environmental regulations on logging, writes Daly. Furthermore, it ignores the influence of climate change, which is believed to be connected to the historic droughts in the West that lead to the destructive wildfires.

“Denying science and waiving the National Environmental Policy Act is the Republican prescription for everything,” said Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz, the senior Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee.

The bill is scheduled for a House vote on Wednesday. According to the committee's press release, an older version of the bill passed the House last year with bipartisan support but stalled in the Senate.

A GOP Senate bill, the ‘Wildfire Prevention and Mitigation Act of 2017’’, primarily authored by Sen. John Barrasso R-Wyo, chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, "would greatly expand categorical exclusions and measures to reduce litigation risk" and reverses an appeals court decision requiring federal agencies in certain circumstances to consult with U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service according to the committee's Oct. 23 press release. 

The third bill, S.1991, introduced by Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.) on Oct. 19, unlike the first two, is bipartisan, as it is co-sponsored by the two Republican senators of Idaho, James E. Risch and Mike Crapo, along with Sens. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) and Patty Murray (D-Wash.).

The Wildfires Management Act of 2017 "provides up to $100 million in funding to at-risk communities to plan and prepare for wildfires" and "[e]stablishes a pilot program that directs the Forest Service and the Department of the Interior to treat their top 1% most-at-risk, least-controversial lands over the next 10 years," according to Sen. Cantwell.

Daly reported on this bill separately on Oct. 20.

Full Story:
Published on Thursday, October 26, 2017 in The Associated Press
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