Bennet: House Should Not Have Removed Wildfire Recovery Funds for Colorado

Following delays and missed deadlines in the House of Representatives, the U.S Senate today moved quickly to approve the House’s version of the Sandy disaster relief bill without amendments.  Unfortunately for Colorado, the House removed wildfire recovery funding for the state and others hit by disasters that the Senate had originally included with bipartisan support.  

“It’s really unfortunate, given the history we have in this country to come together to aid a community in need following a disaster, that the House would not follow our lead in the Senate to include critical resources to stabilize our watersheds and protect our drinking water,” Bennet said. “Simply put, the House left Colorado and many other states struck by major disasters behind. Despite this, I am not going to oppose this bill because the victims of Hurricane Sandy desperately need this aid.

“Securing resources for the Emergency Watershed Protection program will remain a top priority for Senator Udall and me.  We’ll continue to do everything we can to make sure that our Colorado communities that are still reeling from last summer’s wildfires receive the resources they need,” Bennet added.

Bennet and Udall were successful in securing $125 million for the Emergency Watershed Protection (EWP) program in a Sandy aid package that passed the Senate in late December. However, the House failed to vote on the bill before adjourning its session on January 2 and the bill expired.

A new aid package passed by the House earlier this month did not include EWP program funding for states not impacted by Hurricane Sandy. Last week, Bennet and Senator Mark Udall introduced an amendment to this aid package that would have effectively reversed the House’s decision to exclude Colorado from receiving EWP program resources by allowing some of the relief funds to go towards damaged watersheds in other states, including Colorado.

Earlier this month, Bennet visited the Greeley-Bellvue Water Treatment Plant in Colorado to highlight the need for federal resources to protect drinking water in the wake of last summer’s wildfires. During the visit, Bennet and local leaders from Greeley, Fort Collins, and Larimer County discussed the region’s work to preserve and protect watersheds.

In November, Senator Bennet, along with Senator Udall and Representatives Cory Gardner, Doug Lamborn, and Jared Polis, wrote a joint letter to President Obama and the Appropriations Committees, requesting that the Hurricane Sandy aid package include EWP funding for the non-Sandy states as well.

The federal EWP program is designed to support efforts to restore eroded watersheds and damaged drinking water infrastructure. Last year’s devastating wildfires damaged watersheds throughout Colorado, leaving communities at a significant risk of floods, road washouts, and compromised drinking water.

The EWP program falls under the jurisdiction of the Senate Agriculture Subcommittee on Conservation, Natural Resources and Forestry, a subcommittee Bennet chairs.