USA: The House passed legislation Wednesday designed to help prevent future wildfires following a string of devastating fires in the West.
The legislation would make it easier for officials to prepare federal forests for potential fires by easing regulations governing forest management activities like controlled burns and clearing away brush that acts as wildfire fuel.
It also looks to provide more funding for wildfire relief operations by establishing a wildfire-specific account within the Federal Emergency Management Agency.
Republicans say it will make it easier for local offices to prevent wildfires in the future, something that’s needed in the wake of several damaging and expensive wildfire seasons.
“Our people need the resources to do their job, they need the tools, and we should make it very clear that money alone is not going to solve the problem of wildfire catastrophe,” said Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah).
“What we have to do is solve the conditions that create the catastrophic wildfires in the first place.”
Opponents of the legislation criticized it for rolling back environmental regulations and Endangered Species Act protections, which they said could potentially open the door for more industrial production in forests. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) called the bill the “Log America’s Forests Act.”
They also questioned whether the bill would fund wildfire prevention at a high enough level, and said it could improperly pit wildfire funding against that for other disasters. That’s an issue the White House said it was worried about in a statement of administration policy on Tuesday, though supporters of the legislation say that concern is overblown.
“We need a holistic fix to the wildfire budget,” Grijalva said. ”But Republicans would rather play politics with fire to undermine environmental safeguards.”
The bill passed on a 232-188 vote.
The legislation is one of several designed to address wildfires, which have grown in severity and cost over the past decade.
The federal government spent $2.9 billion on wildfire suppression efforts last year, and a string of severe fires this year has burned more than 8.8 million acres, the highest level since 2015 and well above the ten-year average.
Two groups of senators have introduced competing wildfire bills to address the issue.