Wildfires are getting more frequent and more intense due to poor forest management, especially here in California’s First District. We need to update the way we protect and manage our forests, respond to fires effectively and definitively, and prevent fires from starting in the first place. Here’s what I have been doing to make a difference from DC.
Passed into law:
- Fire Funding Fix
- The Fire Funding Fix creates a disaster fund that US Forest Service (USFS) and Department of Interior (DOI) can tap into to pay for firefighting. Similar to how the federal government currently budgets for other natural disasters such as hurricanes and earthquakes, this fund would ensure that agencies can fight wildfires without depleting funding from other parts of their budgets.
- This provision was included in the 2018 Omnibus package and was developed collaboratively with Senator Feinstein throughout the budget process.
- Before this Funding Fix, the fire suppression portion of the USFS budget was funded at the same amount every year. Because of longer and more intense fire seasons,, the fire suppression budget kept rising, eating into a greater percentage of the Forest Service budget each year. With a larger percentage of USFS budget dedicated to fighting wildfires, forest management and prevention projects were being cut instead.
- H.R. 1873, Electricity Reliability and Forest Protection Act
- In April of 2015, I introduced this bipartisan bill to enhance the reliability of the electricity grid and reduce the threat of wildfires to and from electric transmission and distribution facilities on Federal lands by facilitating vegetation management on such lands.
- This policy was passed into law as part of the appropriations package in 2018.
- This legislation would streamline the process for removal of hazardous trees or other vegetative overgrowth within or adjacent to electricity infrastructure (such as powerlines) on BLM and USFS lands.
- This will help reduce the risk of wildfires and electrical grid blackouts.
Introduced and working to pass:
- Three measures as part of a bipartisan Wildfire Package in February of 2021
- H.R. 939, Combustion Avoidance along Rural Roads (CARR) Act
- This bill exempts wildfire mitigation activities conducted within 300 feet of a road from all laws governing environmental and endangered species review such as NEPA and ESA.
- Wildfire mitigation activities include thinning, hazardous fuels reduction, prescribed burning, and vegetation management administered by DOI or USDA.
- H.R. 940, Clearing Lines along Electrical At-Risk (CLEAR) Zones Act
- This Act makes it easier to eliminate hazard trees around utility rights-of-way and power lines.
- Current law states the Secretary of Agriculture must review and approve the management plans for vegetative overgrowth and trees near powerlines “to the maximum extent practicable” in 120 days. This Act would require the Secretary to approve submitted plans within 60 days.
- It extends the distance for clearing trees and parts of trees from 10 feet to 50 feet on either side of the powerline.
- It grants a categorical exemption from environmental assessments from NEPA and ESA for these hazardous trees.
- H.R. 938, Wildland Firefighter Recognition Act
- This bipartisan bill directs the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to develop a separate and distinct Wildland Firefighter occupational series for employees whose main duties and responsibilities are preparing for, reducing fuels for, and suppressing wildfires.
- Currently, OPM classifies these brave men and women as “forestry technicians” or “wildland technicians”. The term “wildland firefighters” better describes these men and women and reflect the full scope of their jobs.
- H.R. 939, Combustion Avoidance along Rural Roads (CARR) Act
- H.R. 2612, RESTORE Act
- This bill would give the Secretary of Agriculture the authority to conduct landscape-scale forest management projects up to 75,000 acres at a Governor’s request.
- It would allow the Secretary to only consider “action” or “no action” in preparing environmental assessments or environmental impact statement pursuant to NEPA.
- It would ensure that the selection of projects under this program is not subject to NEPA.
- This bill would enable Governors to identify the most at-risk forested lands and request federal collaboration on large-scale projects to reduce the risk of wildfires, remove dead trees, or install fuel breaks.
- H.R. 2854, Utility Resilience and Reliability Act
- This bipartisan measure addresses the reliability and resilience of the national electric power grid by proposing certain standards for the Electric Reliability Organization.
- This bill addresses the Public Safety Power Shutoffs that have forced businesses to close and disrupted school, work and daily life by putting people in the dark and at-risk. I joined with many Northern California colleagues by addressing the root cause of this problem and making our energy grid more reliable and resilient.
- This bill would establish a reliability standard within the Federal Power Act that addresses resilience in regard to extreme weather events.
- It would establish a program through the Department of Energy to advise and provide states and local utilities with ways to improve the resilience of their electrical grids.
- It requires DOE to publish a report that provides recommendations on how to minimize the need for, effects of, and duration of planned electric power outages due to extreme weather conditions.
- H.R. 1898, FOREST Act
- This bipartisan measure increased the funding for forest roads maintained by USFS.
- The dedicated road funding would free up USFS dollars in order to restore forests and ensure that service roads are equipped for travel, emergency preparedness, and response.
- These forest roads are vitally important to fighting fires and providing access to recreation. The National Forest Service has twice the acreage and nearly thirty times the number of roads as the National Park Service, but less than a tenth of the road funding.
- This bill increased the funding from $85 million over five years to $200 million over four years.
- Tour by Undersecretary Hubbard – September 2020
- Unfortunately, in the 2020 fire season, USFS Region 5 failed to meet its contracting goals meaning there were insufficient resources to call upon when the increased number of fires exploded.
- The USFS uses the VIPR system to contract for all firefighting resources not associated with a fire department, including water tenders or other heavy equipment.
- After I, along with local contractors, met with USDA Under Secretary Jim Hubbard, direct action was taken by Undersecretary Hubbard and the Trump Administration to begin to correct the VIPR problems for firefighting contractors in California and issue emergency contracts.
- In July 2020, I expressed my views of the way the Biden Administration can improve their wildfire response policy in an op-ed published in The Hill. Read that here.