Washington—Senator Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) and Steve Daines (R-Mont.) yesterday introduced the Emergency Wildfire and Public Safety Act. This bipartisan bill will help protect communities from catastrophic wildfires by implementing wildfire mitigation projects, sustaining healthier forests that are more resilient to climate change and providing important energy and retrofitting assistance to businesses and residences to mitigate future risks from wildfire. The House companion bill is being led by Congressman Jimmy Panetta (D-Calif.).
“Some of the most destructive wildfires in California history have burned in the last four years. Wildfires, once a seasonal threat, are now quickly becoming an almost yearlong danger and our response must acknowledge this new reality,” said Senator Feinstein. “This bill will help adapt forest management across California, Montana and the West to the long-term effects of climate. Creating a market for biomass will provide energy while reducing the fuel that helps fires spread quickly. Retrofitting homes with fire-resistant materials will make our communities more resilient. And helping critical facilities like hospitals become more energy-efficient will prepare them to cope with preventative power shutoffs. This bipartisan bill will help adapt at-risk forests and communities to our new reality when it comes to climate change and fighting wildfire and I’m proud to introduce it today.”
“I am very happy to join Senator Feinstein in introducing this strong, commonsense forest management legislation,” Senator Daines said. “This bill will speed up urgently needed projects to reduce wildfire risks, create good paying jobs in the forestry sector, and protect public health and safety. I look forward to working closely with Senator Feinstein to pass this legislation and send it to the President’s desk, because we must manage our forests so they don’t manage us.”
“Throughout the West, and especially in my district on the central coast of California, we regularly experience devastating wildfires that can result in the tragic loss of life and property, hundreds of millions of dollars in suppression costs, and prolonged power shutoffs. As the fire season becomes longer and more intense, we not only need to be prepared, but we also need to be proactive to protect our homes, towns, and communities,” said Congressman Panetta. “Our bipartisan, bicameral legislation is needed now more than ever to help reduce wildfire risk in federal forests, improve best practices for addressing wildfire, and create more resilient communities and energy grids.”
“Many California forests, like forests across the western United States, are unhealthy and at significant risk of high-severity wildfire, insect and disease epidemics, and other threats. Increasing the pace and scale of forest management activities, including mechanical thinning and controlled burning, reduces the threat of catastrophic fire, protects lives and communities, and safeguards and enhances California’s essential water resources. The bipartisan legislation, the Emergency Wildfire and Public Safety Act of 2020, will expedite forest management, accelerate post-fire restoration and reforestation, and remove hazardous fuel load from our national forests,” said California Farm Bureau Federation President Jamie Johansson
Specifically, the legislation would:
- Provide new authority for the Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management to work collaboratively with state partners in the West to implement wildfire mitigation projects. Projects are restricted to areas most in need of restorative forest management.
- Allow disaster mitigation and preparedness funding to be used to reduce the wildfire risk posed by utility lines and expedite permitting for the installation of wildfire detection equipment (such as sensors, cameras, and other relevant equipment) and expand the use of satellite data to assist wildfire response.
- Create a program to incentivize the collection of woody biomass and help expand processing facilities to make biomass more economically viable.
- Create a forest workforce development program to train a new generation of workers to help address wildfire and forest health.
- Require the establishment of a fire center in the Western United States to train new firefighters and forestry professionals on the beneficial uses of prescribed fires, a far more cost-effective method of stopping fires than mechanical thinning or firefighting.
- Lift the current export ban on unprocessed timber from federal lands in the west for trees that are dead or dying, or if there is no demand in the United States. California currently has nearly 150 million dead and dying trees on thousands of acres that are at risk of wildfire.
- Expand the Energy Department’s weatherization program to allow for the retrofit of homes to make them more resilient to wildfire through the use of fire-resistant building materials and other methods.
- Establish a new grant program to assist critical facilities like hospitals and police stations become more energy efficient and better adapted to function during power shutoffs. The new program would also provide funding for the expanded use of distributed energy infrastructure, including microgrids.