Congressman Panetta, Senator Feinstein Introduce Bill to Reduce Wildfire Risk, Increase Preparedness

May 26, 2021
Press Release

Today, Congressman Jimmy Panetta (D-Carmel Valley) and Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) introduced the bicameral Wildfire Emergency Act to reduce catastrophic wildfires in the American West.  Congressman Panetta is joined by California Representatives John Garamendi, Salud Carbajal, Josh Harder, Jim Costa, Lou Correa and Mike Thompson in introducing the House version of the legislation.

In addition to Senator Feinstein, the Senate bill is cosponsored by Senator Alex Padilla (D-CA) and Senator Ron Wyden (D-OR).

“As wildfire seasons turn into wildfire years, we must take proactive measures now to protect our communities,” said Congressman Panetta.  “Our bicameral legislation will authorize much-needed funding to restore forests, support the creation of Prescribed Fire Centers, and spur workforce development programs that will train our next generation of forestry and fire management specialists.  I’m proud to introduce this legislation with Senator Feinstein to protect precious federal lands, like the Los Padres, from the continued threat of wildfires.”

“Western wildfires are becoming more frequent, more destructive and more deadly.  This is happening because higher temperatures caused by climate change are leading to increased drought, more insect and disease damage and changing weather patterns. We must do more to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfire and prepare for the fires we know are ahead of us,” said Senator Feinstein.  “This bill uses a three-pronged approach: large-scale forest restoration projects, hardening critical infrastructure and increased training of key personnel.  This bill complements other priorities like stabilizing the federal wildland firefighting workforce and retrofitting air tankers.  We need a whole-of-government effort to battle catastrophic wildfire and address the growing challenge of climate change.  This bill moves us in that direction.”

“After decades of federal inaction and chronic underfunding, our bicameral legislation would finally provide the resources necessary to manage our National Forests proactively and sustainably.  Climate change has exposed the risks we’ve created through decades of inadequate forest management and failed fire suppression efforts.  This bill is a great step forward to making healthy, resilient National Forests to safeguard California and other western states from devastating wildfires.  I look forward to working with my colleagues from California’s Congressional delegation to pass our bill into law,” said Congressman John Garamendi.

“When every year is ‘the worst fire year on record,’ we have to do something real to address wildfires,” said Rep. Harder. “This bill will reduce the risk of massive blazes across our state, protect our infrastructure when fires do happen, and make sure we train the next generation of forestry professionals and fire managers.  It’s all hands on deck right now, and this is a huge step in the right direction.”

“Last year, wildfires burned 4.25 million acres of California – and we are potentially headed toward an even more destructive year with escalating drought conditions,” said Senator Padilla.  “The state of California is increasing its wildfire prevention and mitigation budget, but with over half of forests in the state on federal land, the federal government needs to increase its mitigation efforts.  That’s why I’m partnering with Senator Feinstein to bring more resources to save lives and protect communities.  By improving forest management, shoring up critical energy infrastructure and training more forest managers, we can limit the devastation caused by extreme wildfires.”

“The wildfires ripping across the West are not your grandfather’s wildfires.  They are burning bigger, hotter and made more dangerous by the climate crisis,” said Senator Wyden. “More needs to be done to protect communities in Oregon and across the West. With another wildfire season near, it’s time for the federal government to take big, bold action to keep communities safe from catastrophic wildfires.”

The Wildfire Emergency Act has three primary provisions:

  1. Forest restoration projects

The bill authorizes $250 million to fund a new U.S. Forest Service program to conduct large-scale forest restoration projects.  Currently, forest restoration projects are often narrowly focused, a few hundred to a few thousand acres.  By funding up to 20 projects that are at least 100,000 acres each, the Forest Service will be able to conduct landscape-scale projects, providing the ability to analyze and implement restoration activities on a far larger scale than in the past.

These forest restoration projects, designed to reduce the potential for wildfires, include removing dead and dying trees, using controlled burns to reduce fuel for larger fires, clearing out invasive and non-native species and creating habitat better suited for wildlife and native species.  The federal cost-share of each project is not to exceed 60 percent, which will require partnerships with state, local, water district and private funding sources.  The projects must be consistent with all environmental laws; protect large, older trees; reflect the best science on restoring forests; and take climate change into account when planning actions.

  1. Critical infrastructure and energy flexibility

One successful method of preventing large wildfires is temporarily cutting power during times of very high wind.  Unfortunately, the effects are often extremely disruptive.  The bill authorizes $100 million for a new grant program to protect critical infrastructure and allow for greater energy flexibility.

The grant program will help retrofit key structures like hospitals and police, fire and utility stations so they can function better without power.  Funds can also be used to expand the use of distributed energy systems, including microgrids, which will reduce the area that power shutoffs affect.

The bill also expands the Energy Department’s weatherization program so that homes can be retrofitted to make them more resilient to wildfire through the use of fire-resistant building materials and other methods.  Additionally, the bill will expedite the permitting process for installation of wildfire detection equipment, expand the use of satellite data to assist wildfire response and allow FEMA hazard mitigation funding to be used for the installation of fire-resistant wires and the undergrounding of wires.

  1. Research, training and disadvantaged communities

The bill establishes one or more Prescribed Fire Centers to coordinate research and training of foresters and forest managers in western states in the latest methods and innovations in controlled burns, a key strategy in reducing the likelihood of catastrophic fires and improving the health of forests.

A new workforce development program will be authorized to assist in developing a career-training pipeline for forestry and fire management workers and establish a training center to teach foresters and fire managers in the latest methods and innovations in practices to reduce the likelihood of catastrophic fires and improve the health of forests.

An additional $50 million is authorized to help disadvantaged communities plan and collaborate on forest restoration, wildland-urban interface and tribal projects as well as projects increasing equitable access to environmental education and volunteer opportunities.

The Wildfire Emergency Act is supported by the California Natural Resources Agency, California Farm Bureau, Association of California Water Agencies, Nature Conservancy, Sierra Club, Defenders of Wildlife, Wilderness Society, Rural County Representatives of California, Sierra Forest Legacy, American Forests, Central Sierra Environmental Resource Center, Yosemite Stanislaus Solutions, Idaho Conservation League, Placer County Water Agency, Rural Voices for Conservation Coalition, Forest Stewards Guild, Watershed Research and Training Center, Salmon Valley Stewardship, Sustainable Northwest, Western Environmental Law Center, Blue Forest Conservation, Quantified Ventures, Sempra Energy, Edison International and PG&E Corporation.

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