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November 2, 2017

Bennet, Gardner, Thune Introduce Bill to Protect Utility Infrastructure from Wildfire Damage

Washington, D.C. - U.S. Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO), Cory Gardner (R-CO), and John Thune (R-SD) today introduced legislation to authorize a pilot program that would encourage vegetation management on U.S. Forest Service land to protect utility infrastructure from passing wildfires.

"Wildfires this season have caused significant damage to utility infrastructure across the West," Bennet said. "This pilot program would create an opportunity for the Forest Service to partner with utility operators to protect infrastructure in our rural communities. We applaud House passage of the bill and encourage its speedy passage in the Senate to ensure our communities' power supplies are out of harm's way."

"This bipartisan, commonsense bill will strengthen grid resiliency and protect our energy infrastructure by increasing vegetation management near energy utilities in our National Forests," Gardner said. "Reducing forest fires in Colorado and protecting our grid are two major priorities and Senator Bennet and I will work together across party lines to accomplish these goals."

"Wildfires cause catastrophic damage to homes, property, and infrastructure, including electric transmission lines and facilities," Thune said. "In drafting farm bills and other legislation, I've taken an active role in efforts to improve forest management practices that would reduce risk of forest fires. This bill offers a voluntary pilot program for proactive vegetation management near utility infrastructures, which could potentially offer protection of transmission lines and equipment when in the path of wildfires."

The deteriorating health of forests across the Western United States has resulted in an increased fire threat to utility infrastructure on U.S. Forest Service (USFS) land. The National Forest System Vegetation Management Pilot Program Act of 2017 would create a voluntary pilot program that allows the USFS to partner with utility operators to conduct limited and selective vegetation management on a proactive basis. The program participants would be responsible for the cost of the projects, which could include thinning, fuel reduction, and creation and treatment of fuel breaks. The projects would be at the approval of the Secretary of Agriculture in a manner that creates the least disturbance necessary for protection.

Companion legislation (H.R. 2921), led by Congressmen Kevin Cramer (R-ND-At-large) and Jared Polis (D-CO-2), passed the U.S. House of Representatives earlier this week.

The text of the bill is available HERE.

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