July 29, 2022 –
Today, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 5118, the Wildfire Response and Drought Resiliency Act. House Committee on Natural Resources Ranking Member Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) issued the following statement in response:
“The millions of acres burned by wildfires or fallowed by drought aren’t just numbers on a page. To the Americans living out West, these crises can spell disaster for their homes, businesses, and livelihoods. As the pace and scale of wildfires increases, exacerbated by drought, we need an all-hands-on-deck approach to prevent any more loss. Unfortunately, H.R. 5118 is not that solution. We’ve had months to advance legislative solutions through our committee, many of which my colleagues and I have introduced and supported. We have science-based, economical proposals at the ready that would immediately improve forest health, grant land managers crucial resources, protect wildland firefighters, give farmers and ranchers more water for their crops, and many others. Yet what has been the Democrats’ response? Prioritizing literally anything but solutions to these crises. Now, they’re jamming legislation through at the eleventh hour in a last-ditch effort to say they’ve reached a solution. The time to fight fires is before they even begin, not just giving communities N95 masks and telling them to deal with the smoke. The title of this sham legislation tells you everything you need to know: instead of preventing wildfires and drought, Democrats merely want to respond to it. Americans living in fear of their homes burning down, wildlife whose habitat may be lost forever, and firefighters putting their lives on the line deserve better.”
In the midst of the worst wildfire year on record, with more than 5 million acres already burned, H.R. 5118 does nothing to improve forest health and prevent fires from happening in the future. Decades of forest mismanagement have resulted in unhealthy, overstocked forests that are tinderboxes for the smallest spark. Despite many Republican solutions that would both fight fires now and prevent them from starting in the first place, this package focuses solely on wildfire response, not wildfire prevention. The package also allegedly gives wildland firefighters a pay raise to $20 hourly, but in reality, every wildland firefighter already earns more than this hourly wage. Ultimately, this mandated funding would result in layoffs of more than 610 wildland firefighters, a critical blow to workforce morale and fire preparedness.
H.R. 5118 does nothing for long-term water solutions in the West, where much of the nation’s food supply is produced. Republican proposals like reauthorizing the Water Infrastructure and Improvements for the Nation Act would improve water storage infrastructure, yet this package contains none of them and instead just channels billions of dollars of federal funding toward unnecessary research and restoration projects that don’t deliver water to communities in need.
Finally, the package creates new definitions for “Environmental Justice Communities,” which would apply to almost every city and urban area in the U.S. The legislation then relies on these vague, broad standards to implement a host of new regulatory burdens that will ultimately drive disenfranchised communities further into energy poverty by stonewalling and delaying critical infrastructure projects.
Read the full breakdown of the bill here.
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