Week ending November 3, 2017
H.R.2936 – Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017
“H.R. 2936 would increase the share of proceeds from timber sales that the Bureau of Land Management pays to certain counties in Oregon. CBO estimates that enacting the bill would increase the amounts the federal government pays to certain counties in Oregon by $6 million over the 2019-2027 period.
The bill impacts Oregon and California Railroad Grant Lands and Coos Bay Wagon Road Grant Lands.
“The bill also would change the way the Forest Service conducts various activities related to forest management. Finally, the bill would exempt lawsuits challenging certain forest management activities from the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA). Based on information provided by the Forest Service, CBO estimates that implementing the bill would cost $10 million over the 2017-2022 period, assuming appropriation of the necessary amounts.” – cbo
‘Republicans additionally contend that groups receiving federal funds (grants) for conservation work are actually using these funds to support suits against the federal government and are reinvesting the awards they win in court to fuel more litigation. In reality, these groups are prohibited by law from transferring money between conservation and legal funds.’ – bill content.
Forest management activities described are a category of actions hereby designated as being categorically excluded from the preparation of an environmental assessment or an environmental impact statement.
Categorically excluded from the preparation of an environmental assessment or an environmental impact statement under section 102 of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969 (42 U.S.C. 4332) are:
(1) to address an insect or disease infestation;
(2) to reduce hazardous fuel loads;
(3) to protect a municipal water source;
(4) to maintain, enhance, or modify critical habitat to protect it from catastrophic disturbances;
(5) to increase water yield;
(6) produce timber; or
(7) any combination of the purposes specified in paragraphs (1) through (6).
Projects carried out by the Secretary concerned to remove hazard trees or to salvage timber for purposes of the protection of public health or safety, water supply, or public infrastructure are a category of actions hereby designated as being categorically excluded.
With respect to a forest management activity carried out pursuant to this Act, consultation under section 7 of the Endangered Species Act of 1973 shall not be required if the Secretary concerned determines that the such forest management activity is not likely to adversely affect a listed species or designated critical habitat.
No restraining order, preliminary injunction, or injunction pending appeal shall be issued by any court of the United States with respect to any decision to prepare or conduct a salvage operation or reforestation activity in response to a large-scale catastrophic event.
No amounts may be obligated or expended from the Claims and Judgment Fund of the United States Treasury to pay any fees or other expenses under such sections to any plaintiff related to an action challenging a forest management activity carried out pursuant to this Act.
50 percent of Secure Rural Schools Act Title II funding be spent on timber management projects rather than stream and watershed protection or road maintenance
(Full text of H.R. 2936 congress.gov)
|Sponsor: Rep. Westerman, Bruce [R-AR-4] (Introduced 06/20/2017)|
Status: Passed House /
VOTES and FLOOR ACTION
On Passage: On passage Passed by recorded vote: 232 – 188 (Roll no. 598)
An amendment, offered by Mr. Schrader, numbered 1 printed in House Report 115-378 to strike “produce timber” as a forest management activity designated for Categorical Exclusion. On agreeing to the Schrader amendment; Agreed to by voice vote
An amendment, offered by Mr. Khanna, numbered 2 printed in House Report 115-378 to strike Subtitle B of Title III, the Forest Management Activity Arbitration Pilot Program, from the bill. On agreeing to the Khanna amendment; Failed by recorded vote: 189 – 232 (Roll no. 594).
An amendment, offered by Mr. O’Halleran, numbered 3 printed in House Report 115-378 to strike sections 801, pertaining to forest plans not condsidered major Federal actions for purposes of section 102 of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1969, and 903, revision of extraordinary circumstances regulations in the bill. On agreeing to the O’Halleran amendment; Failed by recorded vote: 194 – 226 (Roll no. 595).
An amendment, offered by Mr. Cardenas, numbered 4 printed in House Report 115-378 to require the Secretary of Agriculture, in consultation with other relevant Departments, to conduct a study to evaluate the feasibility, safety and cost effectiveness of using unmanned aerial vehicles for the purposes of supporting wildfire response and suppression as well as forest restoration and management. On agreeing to the Cardenas amendment; Agreed to by voice vote
An amendment, offered by Mr. DeFazio, numbered 5 printed in House Report 115-378 to add land exclusions to Sec. 913, including Yaquina Head Outstanding Natural Area, Wild and Scenic Rivers Act, Wilderness Act, lands managed under the National Trails System. On agreeing to the DeFazio amendment; Agreed to by voice vote.
An amendment, offered by Mr. LaMalfa, numbered 6 printed in House Report 115-378 to direct OPM to create a “wildland firefighter” occupational series. By unanimous consent, the LaMalfa amendment was withdrawn
An amendment, offered by Mr. Pearce, numbered 7 printed in House Report 115-378 to establish a pilot program to demonstrate effective tools and techniques for safeguarding natural resources. On agreeing to the Pearce amendment; Agreed to by recorded vote: 236 – 184 (Roll no. 596)
Motion to recommit: On motion to recommit with instructions Failed by recorded vote: 189 – 230 (Roll no. 597)
Text of the motion:
The House proceeded with 10 minutes of debate on the O’Halleran motion to recommit with instructions. The instructions contained in the motion seek to require the bill to be reported back to the House with an amendment adding a new section pertaining to Extension of Secure Rural Schools and Community Self-Determination Act of 2000.
COST AND IMPACT
Cost to the taxpayers: CBO estimates that enacting the bill would increase the amounts the federal government pays to certain counties in Oregon by $6 million over the 2019-2027 period.
Pay-as-you-go requirements: Those payments are considered direct spending; therefore, pay-as-you-go procedures apply. Enacting the legislation would not affect revenues.
Regulatory and Other Impact: H.R. 2936 would impose intergovernmental and private-sector mandates, as defined in the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act (UMRA) on plaintiffs, including public and private entities that seek judicial review of some forest management projects on federal lands. CBO estimates that the cost of the mandate would fall below the annual thresholds established in UMRA for intergovernmental and private-sector mandates ($78 million and $156 million in 2017, respectively, adjusted annually for inflation).
Dynamic Scoring: CBO also estimates that enacting H.R. 2936 would not increase net direct spending or on-budget deficits by more than $5 billion in any of the four consecutive 10-year periods beginning in 2028.
Tax Complexity: Not applicable to this bill.
Earmark Certification: Data not available
Duplication of programs: Data not available
Direct Rule-Making: Data not available
Advisory Committee Statement: Data not available
Budget Authority: Data not available
More Bill Information:
H.R. 2936 claims to promote forest health and reduce wildfire risk on public lands by providing broad exemptions from environmental analyses required under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), restricting judicial review of certain forest management activities, amending the Equal Access to Justice Act (Act) to limit payment of attorney’s fees, and scaling back the wildlife conservation efforts of the Endangered Species Act. The bill even includes a provision that seeks to undermine the management of a national monument.
Sponsors of the bill claim these sweeping exemptions of bedrock environmental safeguards and disregard for the right of American citizens to confront their government are necessary to incentivize collaboration and increase the pace and scale of restoration projects meant to create resilient forest ecosystems and reduce the occurrence of catastrophic wildfire.
In reality, this bill uses the specter of wildfire to facilitate commercial logging on national forests shielded from public scrutiny and environmental review.
The bill applies to forests managed by the Forest Service as a well as those managed by the Bureau of Land Management.
Neither of these agencies testified at the hearing on the discussion draft or any other hearing in the 115th Congress.
Congress should be concerned with the public safety risk associated with wildfire. Large wildfires have increased worldwide over the past 40 years, particularly in the western United States.\1\ The effect of climate change on wildfire is primarily driven by increases in temperature. Longer summer periods dry fuel, which promotes easier ignition and faster spread. For these reasons, the Intergovernmental Panel on
Climate Change (IPCC) concluded that climate change is projected to increase the impacts of fire on forests, with longer fire seasons and large increases of burned area. These changes are already apparent in the western United States, where the wildfire season has increased by 78 days, and burn durations of fires greater than 2,400 acres have increased from 7.5 to 37.1 days.\2\ Forest Service scientists predict that fire seasons could return to levels not seen since the 1940s, reaching 12 to 15 million acres annually.\3\
\1\Pechony and Shindell, Driving forces of global wildfires over
the past millennium and the forthcoming century (PNAS 107 (45): 19167-
\2\Westerling, A.L., H.G. Hidalgo, D.R. Cayan, T W. Swetnam,
Warming and earlier spring increase western US forest wildfire activity
(Science 313, 940-943, 2006)
\3\United States Forest Service, FY2017 Budget Justification (USFS,
Furthermore, the increasing number of people living adjacent to fire-prone forests, an area known as the Wildland Urban Interface (WUI), is driving up the cost of wildfire suppression. Fuels treatment and other forest management activity designed to mitigate wildfire risk has to be targeted to at-risk areas and coupled with efforts to encourage better planning in the WUI.
While thinning and other forest management tools can reduce property damage and decrease public safety risk, it does not necessarily correlate with reduced instances of wildfire. At a Federal Lands Subcommittee hearing on the subject of forest health, we heard from a leading expert on the root causes of increased wildfire and the effectiveness of forest treatments.
Her research found that only 1% of USFS forest treatments, on average, are exposed to wildfire each year.\4\ In fact, most treatments are designed to reduce wildfire risk and do not encounter fire within the 10-20 years after they are determined to be effective. Even with the rise in annual burned acres due to climate change, wildfire only affects 1% of forests in the Western United States. Due to the sheer scale of forested lands, it is impossible to predict where wildfire will occur.
That’s why it is extremely important that projects designed to reduce risk associated with wildfire are directed to places where they could be most effective, including on private land inside the WUI.
\4\Schoennagel, et al, Adapt to more wildfire in western North
American forests as climate changes (Perspective, 2016)
Rather than acknowledge the role of climate change, or focus on a targeted approach that would actually improve community safety, the House Republican answer to forest management is to eliminate environment review and do away with public oversight in order to expedite commercial timber sales.
Below is a summary of our chief concerns.
Attacks on NEPA
Title I of H.R. 2936 is a sweeping attack on NEPA. First, Section 101 limits environmental review to the consideration of only two alternatives–the proposed action and the no action alternative. This new standard for environmental review undermines congressional intent. Congress passed NEPA over 45 years ago to ensure the review of a range of reasonable alternatives during consideration of major federal decisions that could affect the environment. This principle guides informed decisions that minimize damage to the water we drink and the air we breathe. There will always be environmental impacts associated with certain types of projects, but thanks to NEPA, we look before we leap and do our best to minimize the damage.
Furthermore, NEPA is not the burden Republicans make it out to be. In fact, GAO found that across the federal government 95% of all NEPA decisions are carried as Categorical Exclusions, the lowest level of review allowed under NEPA.\5\ Federal Lands Subcommittee Ranking Member Hanabusa filed an amendment to strike this section from the bill. It was rejected by the majority on a party line vote.
\5\GAO. “National Environmental Policy Act: Little Information
Exists on NEPA Analyses” Washington DC, April 2014. http://
Second, Subtitle B of Title I establishes five new sweeping categorical exclusions (CE) under NEPA. CEs are reserved for categories of actions which do not individually or cumulatively have a significant effect on the human environment and, for which, neither an environmental assessment (EA) nor an environmental impact statement (EIS) is required unless there are certain extraordinary circumstances, as determined by the relevant federal agency.
The regime envisioned by this bill removes critical sideboards used to determine the appropriateness of limiting environmental review for individual projects. For example, Section 111 creates a 10,000-acre CE–the acreage limitation increases to 30,000 if certain conditions are met–to address insect or disease infestation, among other purposes, including timber production. The 2014 Farm Bill created a CE for collaboratively developed insect and disease treatment projects up to 3,000 acres in size that preserve old growth forests and focus on scientifically sound ecological restoration. This bill increases the project size ten-fold while dropping the emphasis on old growth protection and sound science and extending the application to projects with the primary purpose of timber production. If applied by the agency, this could result in nearly 50 square mile timber projects–an area roughly the size of San Francisco–with limited environmental review or public input.
Section 112 creates a 10,000-acre CE for post-fire timber sales, also known as salvage logging. This is 40 times larger than the current 250 acre authority for salvage operations on national forests. This type of logging occurs in ecologically sensitive post-fire landscapes and requires careful consideration and planning. Failure to adequately address stream protection, limit temporary road construction and other key ecological considerations could lead to significant environmental impacts.
Section 113 establishes a 10,000-acre CE to establish early successional forests, a goal which is typically achieved through stand removal, otherwise known as clear-cutting. Clear cuts are not currently authorized under Forest Service NEPA guidance and this bill could lead to nearly 16 square mile clear cuts with limited review of the impacts on wildlife, water quality, and other ecosystem services. Section 114 and 115 create two CEs designed to address roadside emergencies and reduce wildfire risks. Both of these broad CEs apply to a range of management activities, including the use of pesticides in forests. Current Forest Service practice excludes the use of herbicides or pesticides without the preparation of an EA or EIS.
Title II continues the assault on NEPA environmental assessment by placing a 60-day shot clock on environmental review associated with a salvage operation following a catastrophic event, something the bill defines as any wildfire, regardless of size or cause. Rushing the NEPA process could have unfortunate long-term results, such as creating highly flammable tree plantations, a counterproductive result for legislation billed as reducing fire risk. While they were not invited to provide testimony in the 115th Congress, the Forest Service testified in opposition to both of these unrealistic timelines and project goals in the 114th Congress.
Title VIII, while primarily focused on inter-agency consultation, includes language exempting the development, maintenance, amendment or revision of a forest plan from all requirements of NEPA. Forests plans, which are usually accompanied by an EIS, are broad frameworks that inform and guide all decisions related to an individual forest. Individual projects are tiered off the environmental analysis done when the plan is developed or revised. It is unclear how individual projects will be affected if forests plans are no longer required to comply with NEPA. Rather than use the plan to guide decisions about the appropriate level of review for a given project, forest supervisors may decide to subject each project to a higher level of scrutiny, which could have the unintended consequence of causing more planning delays and potentially even more litigation. NEPA assists in federal agency decision making and is also used as the rubric to ensure compliance with a range of statutory requirements. The vacuum left when it is arbitrarily truncated could lead to confusion and extended planning times, not necessarily a red-tape-free planning environment that the sponsors of H.R. 2936 claim they are trying to create.
Buried at the back of the bill, in Title IX, is another pernicious attack on NEPA. Section 903 requires the Forest Service go through a rulemaking process to update its regulations for extraordinary circumstances used to determine whether it is appropriate to use a CE for an individual project. Under these updated regulations, the Forest Service would not be required to consider the cumulative impacts of a project or its impacts. Analysis of cumulative impacts is a fundamental component of NEPA. In the context of the massive projects envisioned by this bill, this policy change could be devastating to the long term health and viability of our national forests.
The broad NEPA exemptions scattered throughout H.R. 2936 fail to reduce wildfires, increase the risk of litigation, and do nothing to address the real issue: chronic underfunding.
Attacks on the Endangered Species ACT
In addition to NEPA, supporters of this bill blame delays in the approval of forest management projects on ESA consultation requirements. Section 123 would put the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS) on a 90-day shot clock to complete consultations required under Section 7 of the ESA. This provision is both unnecessary and absurd. It is unnecessary because ESA consultations are rarely responsible for project delays. A peer-reviewed article published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences found that 93 percent of ESA consultations are informal and take an average of 13 days to complete. Even more thorough formal consultation which may be required when a Federal agency determines, through a biological assessment or other review, that an action is likely to adversely affect a listed species take only 62 days to complete, on average.\6\
\6\Malcolm, Jacob W. and Ya-Wei Li, “Data contradict common
perceptions about a controversial provision of the US Endangered
Species Act” (PNAS, 2015).
It is absurd because we know that any delays in initiating or completing ESA consultations are directly attributable to funding cuts for ESA implementation backed by Republicans. If Congress wants to speed up the consultation process there is a simple way to do that: give FWS more resources to complete consultations.
Subtitle B of Title VIII is designed to prevent ESA re-consultation when FWS lists a new species or designates critical habitat for a listed species. In Cottonwood Environmental Law Center vs. United States Forest Service, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals rightly held that the Forest Service erred in failing to consult with FWS after designation of critical habitat for the threatened Canada Lynx. Previous consideration of lynx conservation in forest plans had been based on a critical habitat designation that was improperly influenced by Julie MacDonald, a George W. Bush political appointee in the Interior Department. The politically-tarnished designation included no critical habitat on Forest Service land. A revised critical habitat designation based on the best available science designated significant lynx critical habitat in national forests was promulgated and the court held that the Forest Service was required to consult with the FWS under Section 7 of the ESA.
The argument that critical habitat will still be taken into account at the project level, so consultation at the forest plan level is redundant, misses the entire point of the ESA in general and of critical habitat, specifically. Habitat destruction is the reason why many fish and wildlife species are on the verge of extinction. We have cut down 95 percent of our old growth forests, plowed over 96 percent of our tallgrass prairie, and filled in more than half of our wetlands.
Requiring consultation for critical habitat and species listings at the broader forest plan level can be the difference between survival and extinction, helping avoid death by a thousand cuts caused by a lack of cumulative impacts analysis.
The same peer-reviewed research mentioned above shows that this bill would actually make consultations take longer than they do now. That study found that the average length of a formal consultation without a plan-level consultation was 62 days, as opposed to 24 days for projects with a plan level review.\7\
At markup, Oversight and Investigations Subcommittee Ranking Member McEachin offered an amendment to strike these two sections out of the bill. It was rejected by the Republicans on a party line vote.
Attacks on Judicial Review and Access to Justice
It is a fundamental principle of American law and our system of government that citizens can turn to the legal system to hold the government accountable. This bill turns that principle on its head in the name of maximizing timber production. Despite the rhetoric of the bill’s sponsors, litigation and public participation is not a burden to completing forest management projects. Data regarding Forest Service and BLM fuel reduction projects from 2009-2011 show that 95% of projects moved forward without any appeal. In that three-year period, the two agencies implemented 8000 projects and less than 1% of projects were subject to litigation.
Section 311 limits attorney’s fees for challenges to proposed forest management projects, effectively blocking litigants from eligibility under the Equal Access to Justice Act (EAJA). In 1980, EAJA was enacted to ensure the right of stakeholders to sue the United States if they have been wronged, regardless of their socio-economic status or their stance on an issue. EAJA provides the option of reimbursement for plaintiff attorneys’ fees up to $125 per hour to the prevailing party in a lawsuit. Fees cannot be awarded to individuals with a net worth of more than $2 million or to organizations worth more than $7 million or with more than 500 employees.\8\ Many diverse stakeholders have received EAJA awards, including industry and environmental groups.
\8\Henry Cohen, .Awards of Attorneys’ Fees by Federal Courts and
Federal Agencies, CRS Report (2009).
There are safeguards built into the law and others that have evolved through case law that effectively prevent abuse. First, EAJA sets a very high threshold for recovering attorney’s fees. Indeed, winning one’s case is not enough. Instead, under EAJA, a party may recover fees from the government only if the plaintiff is the prevailing party and the plaintiff can prove that the government’s position was not “substantially justified.”\9\ Because this is not an easy standard for a plaintiff to satisfy, many plaintiffs do not recover attorney’s fees even when they win their case.
\9\28 U.S.C. Sec. 2412 (d)(1)(B).
Second, even if plaintiffs can recover attorney’s fees, they may only collect up to $125 per hour.\10\ While most courts have adjusted this cap slightly (i.e., between $142 and $180) to account for cost of living in expensive markets, the rate is still less than half of the amount most private attorneys charge.\11\ Also, in very limited circumstances, plaintiffs may recover attorney’s fees in excess of the fee cap. To do so, the plaintiff must show that the attorney possessed distinctive knowledge and skills developed through a practice specialty that were needed in the litigation and not available elsewhere at the statutory rate.\12\ This is a very demanding standard, especially considering that courts have recognized only a few practice specialties.
\10\28 U.S.C. Sec. 2412(d)(2)(A).
\11\See Thangaraja v. Gonzales, 428 F.3d 870, 876-77 (9th Cir.
\12\Love v. Reilly, 924 F.2d 1492, 1496 (9th Cir. 1991).
Republicans additionally contend that groups receiving federal funds (grants) for conservation work are actually using these funds to support suits against the federal government and are reinvesting the awards they win in court to fuel more litigation. In reality, these groups are prohibited by law from transferring money between conservation and legal funds. In the case of the Forest Service and litigation under public land law, payment for attorney’s fees under EAJA comes directly out of agency appropriations. Critics of environmental litigants, who take advantage of this statute, argue that money paid out for attorney’s fees is a drain on an already strained budget. This is an extreme exaggeration. Testifying before the House Agriculture Committee in 2014, the FS Deputy Chief Jim Pena noted that, “the FS measures some costs associated with litigation. For example, we can account for costs associated with the Equal Access to Justice Act which is about $875,000 per year for all land management litigation in the agency.”\13\ Forest Service’s entire budget for the same period was $4.75 billion, meaning that compensation of attorney’s fees to successful litigants made up .018 percent of the agency’s budget. This is less than one-fifth of one-tenth of one percent.
\13\ Pena, Jim, Associate Chief of the US Forest Service “Written
Testimony Regarding Implementation of the Endangered Species Act by
USDA Forest Service”. House Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy, and
Forestry. March 26, 2014.
Representative Barragan offered and withdrew an amendment at markup to strike Section 311, which falls under the jurisdiction of the Judiciary Committee, from the bill.
Sec. 321 authorizes the establishment of an arbitration ilot project as an alternative to judicial review of proposed forest management projects. The pilot authorizes the use of arbitration on up to ten projects per year in each region of the Forest Service; this could mean up to 230 judicial review actions would be forced into arbitration. Under the program, the Secretary will identify qualified professionals to serves as arbitrators. At markup, the majority accepted an amendment from Representative Soto to disqualify anyone with a financial conflict of interest from serving as an arbitrator. Accepting this amendment, however, doesn’t make the use of arbitration to adjudicate forest management decisions any less controversial.
This type of arbitration is effective when negotiating the contract terms of professional athletes. It is less effective or fair when making decisions about the legality of federal actions. Under the terms of this authorization, an arbitrator is only allowed to examine the proposed project and the alternative put forward by the objector. No modifications to either proposal are allowed and the arbitrator must choose the project that best meets the purposes defined by the Forest Service. Finally, a decision must be reached within 90 days and there is no opportunity for judicial review. The Forest Service could use this authority to pick the most controversial projects for arbitration, essentially shielding them from review by the judicial branch.
Last, Section 203 prohibits any judicial relief pending appeal for any post-fire timber sale. Salvage operations should be considered on a case-by-case basis and subject to environmental review. Restricting a judge’s ability to enjoin–or pause–a project of this nature during court deliberations, could allow harmful projects to move forward without having their day in court.
Immediately after a fire, life returns to the forest as plants regenerate and nutrients are released into the soil. Logging in this sensitive post-fire landscape, without review, could lead to soil damage, increased run off, and reduction of important nutrients from the ecosystem. Federal Lands Subcommittee Ranking Member Hanabusa offered an amendment to strike Section 203 from the bill. Republicans voted it down on a party line vote.
Title III treats judicial review of agency decisions as an annoyance to be minimized. The result of this bill would be to prevent any plaintiffs except large companies with deep pockets, from bringing suit. Sponsors of the bill claim they want to limit the federal government’s power and empower individuals, but this does the exact opposite–it’s all about making sure the Federal government can do exactly what it wants without having to worry about legal challenges filed by American taxpayers. Our civil justice system is not designed to work to benefit the mighty and ignore the small and blocking access to the courts does nothing to make our forests more resilient.
Oregon and California Grant Lands
Subtitle B of Title IX includes several concerning provisions related to the management of the Oregon & California Railroad Lands (O&C; Lands), a set of federal lands in Western Oregon managed by the Bureau of Land Management. Section 911 sets an annual timber mandate of 500 million board feet for the O&C; Lands, despite the fact that the agency’s most recent sustained yield determination, published in 2016, is 205 million board feet. H.R. 2936 mandates the production of 2.5 times the scientifically determined timber capacity for this area.
Section 913 requires all O&C; Lands, including land associated with the recently-expanded Cascade-Siskiyou National Monument, to be managed pursuant to the O&C; Act of 1937. Taken together, these provisions could be devastating for the science-based ecological objectives of the monument.
Furthermore, requiring monument lands to be managed for timber production and setting an unsustainable timber production requirement would effectively overturn the monument designation and make it impossible to meet the conservation goals of the Northwest Forest Plan. We reject this sneak attack on the Antiquities Act disguised as forest policy.
Natural Resources Committee Ranking Member Grijalva offered an amendment to strike Section 913 from the bill. Republicans rejected this commonsense amendment to stand up for national monuments and the Antiquities Act.
Title X amends the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act to include wildfires on Federal lands in the definition of natural disasters. This title falls under the jurisdiction of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure so it could not be addressed at the Natural Resources Committee markup. While we appreciate the acknowledgment that we have to do something to address the funding mechanism for wildfire, the fix in this bill needs work. It fails to freeze the ten-year average, like the bi-partisan Wildfire Disaster Funding Act sponsored by Representative Simpson of Idaho. Without this adjustment, spending on wildfire will never get under control. Second, money must be made available without a declaration from the President. After appropriated funding ran out in 2015, for example, there were over 80 wildfires. We can’t rely on the President to make 80 or more declarations every year. This is as unsustainable as the current situation.
In recent years, firefighting costs have consumed over fifty percent of the Forest Service’s budget, with the largest one percent of wildfires accounting for thirty percent of those costs. The costs of large, complex wildfires force the Forest Service to transfer funds away from programs that promote forest health and mitigate wildfire risk in order to fund wildfire suppression. This counterintuitive practice, commonly known as “fire borrowing,” will continue to divert huge sums of money from forest management activities until Congress provides a solution. We agree the fixing the wildfire budget is a priority. H.R. 2936 falls short of solving this problem, which the Chief of the Forest Service has described as the agency’s number one concern.
We’re told this bill will restore forest health, promote climate resilience and even prevent catastrophic wildfires.
Unfortunately, gutting bedrock environmental laws and overturning a national monument will not achieve these goals.
For the reasons outlined above, we are opposed to this bill.
Raul M. Grijalva,
Ranking Member, House
Ranking Member, Subcommittee
on Federal Lands.
Grace F. Napolitano,
Member of Congress.
Ranking Member, Subcommittee
on Water, Power and
Donald S. Beyer, Jr.,
Member of Congress.
Nanette Diaz Barragan,
Member of Congress.
Member of Congress.
- Donald McEachin,
Ranking Member, Subcommittee
on Oversight and
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