U.S. Congressman Mike Simpson - Appropriations Committee Interior Chairman
U.S. Congressman Mike Simpson - 2nd District of Idaho

Simpson's I&E Report: an Interior and Environment Appropriations Update from Chairman Simpson

February 15, 2013

Message from Chairman Simpson
As the 113th Congress begins, our nation is facing a number of challenges.  Most critically, we must address the budget crisis facing our nation in a way that puts us on the path to long-term growth and prosperity.  We will have to make a number of difficult decisions in order to get there. 

Many of those hard choices will play out in the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations bill, as decreasing budgets force us to choose between competing needs.  We will have to carefully weigh the benefits of funding for wildfires, national park operations, community water infrastructure, and effective land management.  Doing so will require continued oversight so that we can further eliminate wasteful spending and unnecessary programs.

In these challenging times, I am committed to doing what it takes to restore our nation to fiscal health.  I plan to hold a number of oversight hearings on the President's budget request and other issues.  I look forward to crafting an appropriations bill for fiscal year 2014 that reins in spending while ensuring good management of our public lands and providing for our trust responsibilities to our Native American brothers and sisters.  I look forward to working with you through this process.

A Look Back at the Week:

Simpson Hosts Briefing on Wildfire Challenges


On Wednesday, Congressman Mike Simpson hosted a private briefing for members of the Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee on funding challenges caused by wildfires.  Simpson chairs the subcommittee that oversees funding for the U.S. Forest Service and wildland fire.  With many new members on the subcommittee for the 113th Congress, he led an informal and productive conversation about the challenges the subcommittee faces in ensuring that the agency has adequate funding to fight wildfires.  Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell participated, among others.

On Wednesday, Congressman Mike Simpson hosted a private briefing for members of the Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee on funding challenges caused by wildfires.  Simpson chairs the subcommittee that oversees funding for the U.S. Forest Service and wildland fire.  With many new members on the subcommittee for the 113 Congress, he led an informal and productive conversation about the challenges the subcommittee faces in ensuring that the agency has adequate funding to fight wildfires.  Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell participated, among others.

“Unlike most other natural disasters, such as floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes, wildfire suppression is not generally eligible for traditional FEMA funding,” said Simpson.  “As a result, other programs funded through this subcommittee’s budget have to absorb the cost of fire.  As the size and cost of wildfires increases and budgets get smaller, we’re faced with difficult choices.”

In recent years, fire suppression has been rapidly consuming the Forest Service’s budget, comprising almost half of the budget today where a decade or two ago it only made up a small percentage.  In addition, when the Forest Service runs out of wildfire money in the middle of the fire season, they must borrow money from other accounts and hope that Congress will reimburse those accounts later.  In addition to creating budget uncertainty, this practice of “fire-borrowing” wreaks havoc on the agency’s ability to actively manage forests to prevent catastrophic wildfires.

The need to replace the Forest Service’s heavy air tanker fleet was a major topic of the discussion.  Last year two Idaho pilots were killed in a deadly air tanker crash, underscoring the dangers of sending the current outdated fleet out to fight fires.  “It’s no secret that many of the heavy air tankers that the Forest Service uses to fight wildfires are at the end of their service life,” said Simpson.  “Some are even Korean War-era planes.  Replacing these planes is costly, but frankly I’m tired of putting the lives of firefighters and pilots at risk.”

The briefing marks the first oversight activity of the subcommittee for the new Congress.

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