Congress today passed a spending bill that increases domestic spending and provides disaster relief assistance to communities, but the package fell short on fixing the nation’s wildfire funding problem.
The bill provides a $131 billion increase over two years in non-defense spending, including environment programs.
“This budget agreement allows a reasonable increase in domestic spending and is a positive step toward providing conservation and science programs the funding they need to protect and manage our nation’s natural resources,” said Lynn Scarlett, The Nature Conservancy’s co-chief external affairs officer. “Healthy lands and waters are essential to vibrant communities, strong economies and the health and well-being of Americans. As lawmakers work toward passing a comprehensive omnibus funding bill, we hope they will increase investments in conservation and science programs that benefit citizens across the country.”
Today’s spending bill did not include a solution to the nation’s wildfire funding problem. Under the current funding system, the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies often have to borrow funds from forest health and other programs to pay for fighting catastrophic fires, diverting money that would otherwise go toward making forests healthier and less fire-prone. A comprehensive solutionthat has broad, bipartisan support would, among other things, fund wildfire suppression like other disasters.
“We are disappointed that Congress failed to address the wildfire funding problem as part of this spending package,” Scarlett said. “However, we are hopeful that legislators will continue working toward a bipartisan solution and will include a comprehensive fire funding fix in the upcoming omnibus bill. Our country cannot afford to continue the destructive cycle of fighting megafires at the expense of the very programs that reduce wildfire risk.”
The spending bill includes a $89.3 billion disaster aid package that will help communities rebuild from the hurricanes that devastated parts of Texas, Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and the wildfires that impacted the western United States.
“We’re pleased to see that the disaster aid package will help communities recover from last year’s disasters and rebuild in ways that increase their resilience against future storms,” Scarlett said. “In particular, we applaud the package’s investments in projects and research that will reduce future risk, upgrades to electrical systems and programs that will help farmers and fishermen who are grappling with the impacts of natural disasters.”
Also this week, the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) instituted a new flood risk standard. Under the rule, new construction or repairs that use HUD disaster funds must be built several feet above flood levels projected by FEMA. A flood risk rule had previously been revoked by the Trump Administration.
“This new requirement implements a proven action for reducing flood damage risk,” Scarlett said. “We encourage HUD and other federal agencies to continue investing in this kind of smart risk reduction.”
The Nature Conservancy is a global conservation organization dedicated to conserving the lands and waters on which all life depends. Guided by science, we create innovative, on-the-ground solutions to our world’s toughest challenges so that nature and people can thrive together. We are tackling climate change, conserving lands, waters and oceans at an unprecedented scale, providing food and water sustainably and helping make cities more sustainable. Working in 72 countries, we use a collaborative approach that engages local communities, governments, the private sector, and other partners. To learn more, visit www.nature.org or follow @nature_press on Twitter.