July 28, 2022

Rep. Neguse, Leader Hoyer Lead Lawmakers in Push for Legislation to Expand Wildfire Response and Drought Resiliency

 

 Watch the Livestream here.

Washington, D.C. — Today, Congressman Joe Neguse, Chairman of the House Public Lands Subcommittee, led a broad group of House Democrats, including Majority Leader Steny Hoyer, in calling for the swift passage of the Wildfire Response and Drought Resiliency Act, H.R. 5118. The monumental legislative package – up for consideration this week – would increase investments for tackling wildfires, resiliency efforts, and mitigation projects for communities impacted by recent climate-induced disasters. 

Neguse was joined at today’s event by House Majority Leader, Congressman Steny Hoyer, and Representatives Huffman (D-CA), Leger Fernandez (D-NM), O’Halleran (D-AZ), Lofgren (D-CA), Schrier (D-WA), Panetta (D-CA), Stanton (D-AZ), and Stansbury (D-NM).  

As the impacts of climate change worsen, climate-induced natural disasters are becoming increasingly devastating for communities across America. For lawmakers in Washington, one thing is clear — the scale of this crisis requires an urgency that matches the severity of its consequences. 

“The Wildfire Response and Drought Resiliency Act is a carefully crafted bill — that includes proposals from nearly fifty stand-alone pieces of legislation championed by some of the lawmakers here today. Across America the impacts of climate change continue to worsen, and in this new normal historic droughts and record setting wildfires have become all too common. What once were wildfire seasons are now wildfire years. For the families across the country who have lost their homes due to these devastating wildfires and for the neighborhoods impacted by drought, we know that we need to apply a whole of government approach to […] supporting community recovery and bolstering environmental resiliency,” said Congressman Neguse. “We’re proud to have secured so many victories as part of this bill […] This is a bill that we believe meets the moment for the West.”

“I am glad to have the opportunity to stand with my colleagues and to talk about the legislation that we are passing today to address the wildfires and drought throughout the American West. We are one nation indivisible and if one part of us is burning, we are all burning,” said House Majority Leader, Steny Hoyer.  

“What I share is not just a border with Congressman Neguse, but I share the sorrow and the pain of having watched our communities – our homes and our livelihoods go up in flames – and the deaths that occur from that,” said Rep. Leger Fernandez. “This bill is like a gentle monsoon of rain falling on our parched landscape, it brings both hope and solutions.”

“It’s not just a western United States problem. As the West burns the smoke travels across the entire United States. So it's not just being felt in the West, but it’s being felt in the Midwest, it’s being felt in the East and we need to take action. I thank you Mr. Neguse and I hope that the Senate will take up this bill promptly,” said Rep. Lofgren. 

“We have work to do and this crisis is only getting worse. Mr. Neguse and my colleagues here, thank you for your leadership in bringing this package together. I’m grateful that Democrats have been laying the groundwork and building legislation [WRDR Act] to meet this moment – this package is full of transformative bills,” said Rep. Huffman.  

“The west is hot – hotter than ever – it is dry and when it is windy, the west is on fire. And we are seeing this every year because of climate change. That’s why this bill is so important and I thank my colleagues for working so hard on every part of this bill that will protect the West by addressing water shortages and protecting our forests, and addressing the needs of our firefighters,” said Rep. Schrier. 

“It’s more than just turning on the TV and seeing the conflagration, the devastation, and the destruction. It’s about the realization that because of the drought our forests have reached record levels of dryness [...] It’s a dangerous and deadly threat to our national forests, to our national parks, and to our surrounding communities. That’s why we have to act now,” said Rep. Panetta. “This bill is about smart science based commonsensical stewardship of our forests that will enhance their sustainability and that will protect our communities.”

“This bill is essential for the American West. This bill is mission critical for the state of Arizona. The people of your state, Mr. Neguse, in Colorado, and my home state of Arizona, they need Congress to take bold action – this bill does exactly that,” said Rep. Stanton. 

“This week we will vote to pass the Wildfire Response and Drought Resiliency Act, new legislation to address drought and wildfire in our nation. And it needs to get done,” said Rep. O’Halleran. “With a decades long drought long overlooked, overgrown forests, and the compounding effects of climate change there is no longer a wildfire season in Arizona’s 1st Congressional District – there’s been a multitude of fires already this year.”

“It’s a good day to address climate change and drought in the United States Congress. Today we are about to pass a historic piece of legislation that includes almost four dozen pieces of legislation that helps to address wildfire, drought, and climate change [...] These are critical pieces of legislation to address our climate crisis and I am so proud to stand with all of my colleagues behind me,” said Rep. Stansbury.

Neguse, the Co-Chair of the Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus, has emerged as a leader amongst his colleagues in the fight for increased federal support to communities recovering from climate-induced natural disasters. Following Colorado’s record-setting wildfires seasons in 2020 and 2021, Neguse has worked tirelessly to bring federal resources home to recovering communities and advocate for increased support for wildland firefighters, wildfire prevention, and forest management. He serves as Chair of the U.S. Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, where his Restoring Our Lands and Communities Agenda prioritizes addressing the causes and impacts of wildfires. 

The Wildfire Response and Drought Resiliency Act advanced several Neguse-led legislative priorities, including:

  • The Wildfire Recovery Act increases flexibility in the federal cost share for Fire Management Assistance Grants (FMAG) and brings in additional resources for communities as they rebuild from wildfire damage.
  • The Wildfire Smoke Relief Act provides federal emergency assistance to at-risk individuals in Colorado and nationwide suffering from unhealthy air quality caused by wildfire smoke.
  • The REPLACE Act requires that certain critical document replacement fees be automatically waived for individuals that are affected by major disasters and where Individuals and Households Program (IHP) assistance has been granted for that disaster. 
  • The Upper Colorado and San Juan River Basins Recovery Act protects endangered fish species in the Upper Colorado and San Juan River Basins, and preserves critical water infrastructure projects. 
  • The Land Restoration and Resiliency Act establishes the Community Resilience and Restoration Fund, to provide grants to invest in restoration and resiliency projects to protect against the threat of climate change, administered through the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF). 

The bill also included provisions from:

  • The Tim Hart Wildland Firefighter Classification and Pay Parity Act— Specifically, the sections which establish a GS-6 starting wage with parity for federal firefighters, annual adjustments, disability annuity, hazard duty pay, and 7-day mental health leave. The package also includes sections of Tim’s Act that issue a report to Congress on compensation comparable to state and local federal firefighters. 
  • The Western Wildfire Support Act— Specifically, these sections:
    • Establishes a Long-Term Burned Area Recovery Account to protect watersheds, prioritizing those recently impacted by wildfires.
    • Requires a spatial wildland fire management plan, specifically for prescribed burns.
  • The Tribal Access to Clean Water Act— Specifically, the section that allocates funds to the Bureau of Reclamation for water infrastructure development and maintenance. 
  • A provision based on the SOAR Act, which encourages the use of Conservation and Youth Corps to fulfill the goals of the 10-year wildland fire management plan.

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