Washington, D.C. - With deadly fires still raging across the West, Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet and a bipartisan group of senators pressed Senate Leaders Mitch McConnell (R-KY) and Chuck Schumer (D-NY) in a letter to include a wildfire funding fix in future disaster aid legislation in the Senate.
The House of Representatives passed disaster aid legislation last week to provide funding for hurricanes and wildfires that have hit the country this year. That bill will allow the U.S. Forest Service to pay back the funds it has been forced to borrow from other accounts to cover the cost of fighting wildfires. However, the House-passed legislation does not include a long-term solution to provide consistent funding for fire suppression and prevention.
Last month, Bennet joined his colleagues to introduce the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2017. The bipartisan legislation would treat wildfires as natural disasters and stop the erosion of the Forest Service's budget by reforming the way the federal government funds wildfires. The legislation also would end "fire borrowing," which has depleted funds intended for forest restoration, habitat programs, trail maintenance, and fire prevention. More than 250 private and public organizations have supported the legislation.
"We request that you work with us to include the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, legislative language that ensures the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of Interior (DOI) have stable, reliable funding to help prevent wildfires," the senators wrote.
This year, the Forest Service and the Interior Department have spent almost $2.9 billion to put out wildfires. The Forest Service has had to fire borrow from other accounts to pay for the record-breaking cost of this year's fires.
"Passage of the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act will free up funds to do the prevention work that reduces the risk of catastrophic wildfires that our country has suffered this year -- funding that could have prevented the deaths of Americans, destruction of hundreds of homes and businesses, the loss of business revenue due to evacuations, and the loss of millions of acres of forests," they wrote. "We ask that you work with Western senators to include a comprehensive wildfire funding fix in any disaster supplemental bill that comes before the Senate."
This is the latest effort by Bennet to improve wildfire prevention, mitigation, and recovery efforts. Earlier this month, Bennet introduced the Wildfire Mitigation Assistance Act to provide resources for communities recovering from damaging wildfires. In September, Bennet met with Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue and fire experts at the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Forest Service for a discussion on record fire season spending and the problem of fire borrowing.
This is the second letter Bennet has sent to Senate leadership urging them to include the bipartisan wildfire funding fix in any disaster aid package that passes through Congress.
In addition to Bennet, the letter's signers include Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR), Mike Crapo (R-ID), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Patty Murray (D-WA), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Jim Risch (R-ID).
Full text of the letter below can be found HERE.