House passes 49-bill package aimed at dealing with wildfires, drought

The House on Friday passed an extensive package, primarily aimed at combatting wildfires and drought. The legislation, which combines 49 separate bills, was approved, 218-199.

The legislation is sponsored by Arizona Democratic Reps. Greg Stanton and Raúl Grijalva. Only one Republican, Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick (PA), voted in favor of the bill and only one Democrat, Rep. Kurt Schrader (OR), voted against it.

Among it’s many measures, the package is focused on increasing funding for drought-relief efforts on the Colorado River, strengthening wildfire recovery efforts and upholding tribal water rights sought by Native American officials. It would also establish a mental health leave for wildland firefighters, as well as an increase in salary.

Bill H.R. 8435, one of the many bills in the package, gives $500 million to the Department of Interior to relieve pressure on the Colorado River system and prevent Lake Mead and Lake Powell from dipping below critical levels. Last August, the federal government declared a water shortage for the Colorado River and Lake Mead, forcing farmers to cut back on water usage.

Another bill, H.R. 8516 (aka, the Wildfire Response Improvement Act) would require FEMA to establish new policies to combat wildfires. “The Wildfire Response and Drought Resiliency Act is a carefully crafted bill — that includes proposals from nearly fifty stand-alone pieces of legislation,” said Rep. Joe Neguse (D-CO), one of the primary sponsors of the bill.

He added, “What once were wildfire seasons are now wildfire years. For families across the country who have lost their homes due to these devastating wildfires and for the neighborhoods impacted by drought, we know that we need to apply a whole-of-government approach to support community recovery and bolster environmental resiliency. This is a bill that we believe meets the moment for the West.”

Rep. Kim Schrier (D-WA) concurred: “The West is hot — hotter than ever — it is dry and when it is windy, the West is on fire. And we are seeing this every year because of climate change. That’s why this bill is so important.”

Rep. Bruce Westerman (AK), the leading Republican on the House Natural Resources Committee, decried the bill and criticized Democrats of failing to provide sustainable, long-term solutions.

“Democrats are finally waking up to the wildfire and drought crises, exacerbated by years of forest mismanagement and a lack of long-term water storage. Unfortunately, Democrats’ proposals are anything but solutions,” Westerman said.



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