Nov 08 2007
Congress Approves $500 Million in Emergency Fire Funding Sought By Senator Feinstein and Representative Lewis
-Funding approved in wake of deadly Southern California wildfires-
Washington, DC – The Senate and House of Representatives voted overwhelmingly today to approve $500 million sought by U.S. Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Representative Jerry Lewis (R-Calif.) for emergency fire suppression, risk reduction and recovery needs required because of this year’s catastrophic fire season.
“This is a major step forward. It will help get fire-ravaged Southern California back on its feet. And it will restore vital funding, for federal firefighting and fire-prevention, to the U.S. Forest Service and the Interior Department,” Senator Feinstein said.
“This is the Congress at its best, working to create a bipartisan solution to an important problem. I want to thank Representative Jerry Lewis, the ranking member of the House Appropriations Committee, for his sustained support in this effort, and Representative Norm Dicks of Washington, for joining with me to request this supplemental funding. I also want to thank Senator Byrd and Representative Obey, the chairs of the Senate and House Appropriations Committees, for moving our funding request forward.”
“It is clear that Congress is committed to supporting our brave firefighters by quickly approving this emergency funding. I want to thank Senator Feinstein and Congressman Norm Dicks for their leadership in seeing this through," Representative Lewis said. “This will provide much-needed relief for our terrible Southern California fires and help prevent future fires.”
The $500 million in supplemental funding was attached to the $460 billion Defense Appropriations Bill, which included a Continuing Resolution to keep the federal government funded through December 14.
The Senate voted by voice vote to approve the appropriations bill and Continuing Resolution. The House of Representatives voted 400 to 15 for approval. The measures now go to President Bush for his signature.
The $500 million in fire funding will be spent as follows:
- $215 million to repay program funds borrowed by U.S. Forest Service and the Interior Department for last year’s spending;
- $150 million to the U.S. Forest Service and the Interior Department to fight wildfires;
- $90 million to reduce hazardous fuels, including dead, dying and downed trees that feed major wildfires. Of this, $60 million will go to clear hazardous fuels from federal lands, and $30 million will be for grants to clear hazardous fuels from state and private lands;
- $31 million for emergency rehabilitation and restoration of federal lands; these efforts will involve replanting new trees and stabilizing soils to reduce the risk of mudslides in burn areas; and
- $14 million to rebuild U.S. Forest Service facilities destroyed by the recent fires.
Senator Feinstein and Representative Dicks (D-Wash.) had asked the chairmen of the House and Senate Appropriations Committee for supplemental appropriations for firefighting, fire-prevention and recovery in a letter sent October 26, as wildfires ravaged Southern California.
The Southern California wildfires burned more than 500,000 acres, killed nine, injured dozens more, and destroyed more than 2,000 homes. It was the second major series of wildfires to hit Southern California in four years.
In their letter, Senator Feinstein and Representative Dicks noted that so far in 2007, fires had scorched more than 8.3 million across the United States, far above the 10-year average of 5.9 million acres.
As a result, the Interior Department and U.S. Forest Service were forced to spend a combined $1.8 billion in appropriated and supplemental funds on wild land firefighting in fiscal 2007. And both agencies were forced to borrow other program funds to fully fund firefighting needs through the end of fiscal 2007.
The California wildfires threaten to force both agencies to exhaust their fiscal 2008 funding well before the fiscal year ends.
Immediately after the 2003 wildfires, Senator Feinstein and Representative Lewis secured $150 million for counties in Southern California to remove trees killed by drought and bark beetle from non-federal lands. They also worked through the Appropriations Committees to allocate nearly $60 million to reduce hazardous fuels in state and private lands, and $87.4 million for fire prevention efforts within the national forests in Southern California over the past four years.