Sen. Steve King, who pitched Colorado air tanker fleet, to sit on new wildfire committee

Sen. Steve King, who pitched Colorado air tanker fleet, to sit on new wildfire committee

03 July 2013

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USA — Maybe it’s fair play that state Sen. Steve King, R-Grand Junction, is the only name yet on Colorado’s new Wildfire Matters Review Committee, a bipartisan legislative panel that will take on prevention, mitigation, policies and legislation that could help save lives and property.

The committee was created in the last session, with five members from the state Senate and five from the House; three from the majority party and two from the minority in each chamber. The names of appointees was due on Monday. Wednesday, the Colorado Senate Republican staff issued a press release saying King was onboard. So far no other names have been released, and at 6 p.m. Wednesday, the state website still listed the committee members as “forthcoming.”

King went out on a political limb during the last session. He and Sen. Cheri Jahn, D-Wheat Ridge, asked for $20 million for a Colorado fleet of air tankers and a crew of specialized firefighters to respond more quickly than waiting on dispatches from the federal fleet. The money would have come from a mix of public and private sources, including a new state lottery game.

Instead, the General Assembly approved a $17.5 million plan, but it didn’t include a way to pay for it. Some Republicans said the Democratic governor, John Hickenlooper, should find the money, even if the legislature had not. This week, Hickenlooper pitched an idea to other members of Western Governors Association: share a fleet, reduce the costs.

“The evidence is clear and the problem is thoroughly defined: Colorado has nearly 4 million acres of dead trees and is still languishing in a 12th straight year of drought,” King wrote in a Denver Post op-ed piece in April, in response to an editorial that called the plan too costly. “Only last year, Colorado suffered six fatalities, lost 647 homes, and incurred $48.1 million in fire suppression costs.”

“Our state faces a clear and present danger: We are one chance lightning strike, one errant match toss or one arsonist’s blaze from a catastrophic wildfire that could dramatically change our state. God help Colorado (as well as the other lower basin states) if catastrophic fires continue to mar Colorado watersheds.”

With the tanker idea grounded, King will have a seat on the committee that could figure out how to move the idea forward, perhaps next time with a payload of money to pay for either for a Colorado fleet or the shared one the governor supports.

“The current wildfire environment with its drought conditions and abundance of dead trees is a clear and present danger to our state and its citizens,” King said in a statement Wednesday. “I look forward to working with my fellow members of the committee as we work towards decreasing the wildfire risk in Colorado.”

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