GOP makes new push on wildfire bills

GOP makes new push on wildfire bills

16 July 2016

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USA— Congressional Republicans are renewing their effort to pass legislation to reduce wildfires in federal forests and help agencies’ budgets for fighting them.

Bills in both chambers of Congress aim to take a comprehensive approach to wildfire reform.

The main provisions would exempt from environmental review projects to reduce the risks of fires and let federal agencies like the Forest Service exceed their budgets for fire fighting without borrowing from accounts meant for other purposes.

And although both the House and Senate just left for a seven-week recess, leading GOP lawmakers are optimistic that they can get their bills across the finish line.

House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Rob Bishop (R-Utah) is pledging to attach his chamber’s fire bill to other must-pass legislation.

Meanwhile, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) introduced his similar bill last month and plans to start committee consideration of it when lawmakers return in September.

“We cannot afford just to throw money at the problem. We have to address the root cause,” Bishop told reporters Friday. “And this framework gives the agencies a responsible budget fix that they’ve been calling for so they can finally begin treating the forests at a pace and a scale that is needed to protect our communities.”

“With fire season ahead of us, it is time Congress and the administration and stakeholders work toward solutions that not only address wildfire funding fixes, but more important, to improve the management of our national forests,” Roberts said.

The legislation comes as wildfire fighting and recovery costs have been increasing dramatically in recent years. The growth in costs comes due to a number of factors, including climate change, droughts, difficulty in taking preventive measures and increased development near forests.

The House’s legislation passed last year, and while the Obama administration identified problems with it, it did not threaten to veto the bill.

Most Democrats and environmental groups oppose the bill, saying it would significantly weaken the National Environmental Policy Act, the bill that governs environmental reviews, by adding “categorical exclusions” for logging and burning activities that are meant for fire mitigation.

“The bill would cut out meaningful and informed public involvement by waiving NEPA for these new [exclusions], including often damaging salvage logging operations,” the National Parks Conservation Association wrote in a letter to lawmakers.

But Bishop and Roberts aren’t deterred.

“We’re going to keep working to advance this legislation on every vehicle possible in the coming months,” bishop said, naming the energy policy bill, the National Defense Authorization Act and appropriations legislation as possible places to attach it.

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