Grijalva: GOP Forest Fire “Management” Bill Just Sacrifices Trees to Logging Companies, Doesn’t Solve Fire Funding Problems

Washington, D.C. – Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) today questioned House Republicans’ expected passage this evening of H.R. 2936 – Rep. Bruce Westerman’s (R-Ark.) “Resilient Federal Forests Act of 2017” – given its failure to address the structural funding problems that cripple the U.S. Forest Service. Just as seriously, he pointed out, the bill undermines the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA) to elevate logging over all other uses, increasing logging companies’ access to public lands but doing little to prevent forest fires.

The bill includes sweeping waivers of provisions in NEPA, the ESA and the Equal Access to Justice Act that Senate leaders of both parties already rejected in the previous Congress. House Republicans know the bill has no future in the Senate, and are pushing it anyway as a purely ideological exercise.

Just as seriously, the Trump administration is concerned that the bill will create an unworkable scramble for scarce federal disaster assistance funding. An Oct. 31 Statement of Administration Policy notes that the White House “has concerns about the legislation’s revisions to the Stafford Act, which would force competition for funding between wildfires on Federal land and other disasters already covered by the Stafford Act, including hurricanes.”

The need for a genuine workable solution is acute. More than 50 percent of the U.S. Forest Service’s budget now goes toward wildfire suppression each year, with the largest 1 percent of fires accounting for 30 percent of the costs. The unpredictable nature of fire season often forces the Forest Service to transfer funds, sometimes on short notice, from forest health and maintenance programs to pay for emergency wildfire suppression.

In addition to its dim political prospects, Grijalva said, the Westerman bill has multiple shortcomings:

  • The bill requires the president to declare a national emergency for each fire in need of additional response funding. During a busy fire season, when many fires can burn simultaneously, federal agencies will have to cease operations while the White House processes paperwork. A real budget fix would ensure that funds are available in advance of an emergency, not on an ad hoc case-by-case basis.
  • The bill only makes supplemental wildfire response funding available to the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management after Congress has already appropriated, and the affected agency has already spent, an amount equal to or greater than the rolling 10-year appropriated average for wildfire suppression. Due in large part to longer, more intense wildfire seasons partially attributable to climate change, the Forest Service estimates this number will continue to grow.
  • A competing bill, Rep. Mike Simpson’s (R-Idaho) Wildfire Disaster Funding Act – which Rep. Grijalva cosponsors – makes supplemental response funding available when an agency has spent only 70 percent of that 10-year average, allowing Congress to address truly catastrophic fires outside of established spending limits and leaving more money in agencies’ base budgets available for prescribed burns, hazardous fuels reduction and other treatments designed to mitigate wildfire risk. House Republicans in the Rules Committee rejected two Democratic amendments on Tuesday evening to add a workable budget fix to the Westerman bill.

“House Republicans seem to think every disaster and every hardship our country faces is an exciting opportunity for another industry giveaway,” Grijalva said today. “The Americans across the West whose homes burned to the ground this year aren’t interested in whether Congress can make timber companies a few extra bucks. This bill is a shameful waste of everyone’s time. It isn’t even designed to pass the Senate – it’s designed to pass the House and die in the Senate, and that’s what we’re about to see happen.”

Press Contact

Media Contacts: Adam Sarvana                                                                

(202) 225-6065 or (202) 578-6626