Last week the House passed H.R. 2213, the Anti-Border Corruption Reauthorization Act of 2017, which enables the Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection to waive polygraph requirements in limited circumstances for individuals who served as law enforcement officers or in the armed forces, by a vote of 282 to 137. On Thursday, the House passed H.R. 10, the Financial CHOICE Act of 2017, which will end taxpayer-funded bailouts, hold Wall Street accountable with the toughest penalties in history for fraud and deception, rein in the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB), and eliminate onerous regulations that are stifling access to credit and capital, by a vote of 233 to 186. Congressman Simpson supported both bills.
Simpson and Schrader Reintroduce Wildfire Disaster Funding Act
Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson and Oregon Congressman Kurt Schrader today reintroduced the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act (WDFA), legislation which would fix the current budgeting process for wildfires.
In recent years, Congress has budgeted for wildfire suppression by appropriating money according to the average cost for wildfires over the past ten years, known as the “ten-year average.” When costs exceed an agency’s fire budget, that agency is forced to borrow from non-fire accounts to pay for fire suppression. This practice is known as “fire-borrowing.” Robbing these accounts means that the Forest Service and other land management agencies have fewer resources available for forest management activities like hazardous fuels reduction that would prevent catastrophic fires. As a result, fires get worse and wildfire suppression costs end up devouring the agency’s budget.
“I have seen the cost of wildfires in Idaho and the impacts it has on our forests when funds that are planned for forest management are used to fight wildfires,” said Simpson. “When more than fifty percent of an agency’s budget is unpredictable, you are creating a recipe for the unsustainable fire-borrowing we see today that devastates our forests and costs taxpayers. I am pleased to reintroduce the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act with Congressman Schrader again this Congress. It is time to acknowledge that catastrophic wildfires should be funded like natural disasters so we can ensure that land managers have the resources they need to properly manage our forests.”
“Simply put, the current system is broken,” said Schrader. “Because we do no project management to help protect our forests, we end up paying much more to fight costly carbon producing wildfires that again devastate our ability to do the critical forest management on our public lands in the first place. These fires should be treated the same as any other natural disaster. Budgeting to address the mismanagement of our forests would free up financial resources. Our bill will work to fix this root problem by reducing fuel loads, improving forest health, save taxpayers money, and provide jobs in our struggling rural communities.”
Fire borrowing was intended to be an extraordinary measure to help in bad wildfire years. However, this practice has become the norm and not the exception, which has caused wildfire costs to increase. According to the Forest Service, wildfire costs were 56% of their total budget in 2016. In 1995, the Forest Service spent only 16% of their total budget fighting wildfires. By 2025, that number could increase to nearly 70% if nothing is done to fix the budgeting process.
The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act would end fire borrowing by treating wildfires like other natural disasters when wildfire suppression costs are exhausted. Most importantly, the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act would protect land management programs by protecting the budget from the increasing ten-year average. Wildfire suppression would still be funded through the normal budgeting and appropriations process, but when the Forest Service exceeds its annual wildfire suppression budget, the agency would be able to fund wildfire fighting costs like other natural disasters. This allows the Forest Service and other land management agencies to maintain resources in the prevention accounts they are intended for, ultimately preventing catastrophic wildfires from growing in size and cost.
The Wildfire Disaster Funding Act was also introduced in the 113th and 114th Congress. The legislation received 150 bipartisan cosponsors and the support of more than 300 organizations. Original cosponsors for the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2017 include Representatives Mark Amodei, Suzanne Bonamici, Ken Calvert, Jim Costa, Peter DeFazio, Marcy Kaptur, Derek Kilmer, Raul Labrador, Betty McCollum, Cathy McMorris-Rodgers, Dan Newhouse, Jared Polis, Kysrten Sinema, Steve Stivers, Scott Tipton, and Greg Walden.
Simpson Discusses Wildfires, Litigation Issues with USDA/Forest Service
Idaho Congressman Mike Simpson discussed important Idaho issues with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and U.S. Forest Service Chief Tom Tidwell during a hearing held by the House Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Subcommittee. The topics ranged from ongoing litigation that prevents the Forest Service from managing public lands, to treating wildfire funding like other natural disasters.
“How do you maintain the public’s right to have a say in how their public lands are managed and get on with managing instead of spending all the resources we use in lawsuits?” said Simpson. “We have created situations where you can get sued at multiple steps in the process and it is just unmanageable.”
Congressman Simpson has long expressed concerns with frivolous litigation and recently introduced bipartisan legislation to reverse a court ruling that risks 80 vegetative management projects and hundreds of millions of board feet according to the Forest Service. Secretary Perdue echoed his concerns about the court decision known as Cottonwood.
Simpson also raised the issue of ending the disastrous practice of fire borrowing and treating wildfires like other natural disasters.
“Fire borrowing has gotten out of hand,” said Simpson. “When 53 percent of your budget is going to fight wildfires that means there is no money left for anything else… We have appropriated money for (trail maintenance), but guess what? It has gone to fight wildfires...We need your help (Secretary Perdue) to make leadership understand the importance of this issue.”
Congressman Simpson has long championed the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, which would fix the way wildfires are currently budgeted for by treating catastrophic wildfires like other natural disasters. The legislation received 150 cosponsors last Congress.
To view Congressman Simpson raising these important issues, visit the following link: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F_E37zD8GwY&feature=youtu.be
At 11:00 a.m., Congressman Simpson will attend a House Interior and Environment Appropriations Subcommittee hearing regarding the Fiscal Year 2018 budget request for the Environmental Protection Agency.
At 1:00 p.m., Congressman Simpson will attend a House Appropriations Committee markup for the Fiscal Year 2018 Military Construction and Veterans Affairs Appropriations bill.
MONDAY, JUNE 12TH
On Monday, the House will meet at 12:00 p.m. for morning hour and 2:00 p.m. for legislative business. Votes will be postponed until 6:30 p.m.
Legislation Considered Under Suspension of the Rules:
1) H.R. 338 - To promote a 21st century energy and manufacturing workforce (Sponsored by Rep. Bobby Rush / Energy and Commerce Committee)
2) H.R. 446 - To extend the deadline for commencement of construction of a hydroelectric project (Sponsored by Rep. Morgan Griffith / Energy and Commerce Committee)
3) H.R. 447 - To extend the deadline for commencement of construction of a hydroelectric project (Sponsored by Rep. Morgan Griffith / Energy and Commerce Committee)
4) H.R. 627 - Streamlining Energy Efficiency for Schools Act of 2017 (Sponsored by Rep. Matt Cartwright / Energy and Commerce Committee)
5) H.R. 951 - To extend the deadline for commencement of construction of a hydroelectric project (Sponsored by Rep. Virginia Foxx / Energy and Commerce Committee)
6) H.R. 1109 - To amend section 203 of the Federal Power Act (Sponsored by Rep. Tim Walberg / Energy and Commerce Committee)
7) H.R. 2122 - To extend the deadline for commencement of construction of a hydroelectric project involving Jennings Randolph Dam (Sponsored by Rep. David McKinley / Energy and Commerce Committee)
8) H.R. 2274 - HYPE Act (Sponsored by Rep. Scott Peters / Energy and Commerce Committee)
9) H.R. 2292 - To extend a project of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission involving the Cannonsville Dam (Sponsored by Rep. John Faso / Energy and Commerce Committee)
10) H.R. 2457 - J. Bennett Johnston Waterway Hydropower Extension Act of 2017 (Sponsored by Rep. Mike Johnson / Energy and Commerce Committee)
TUESDAY, JUNE 13TH
On Tuesday, the House will meet at 10:00 a.m. for morning hour and 12:00 p.m. for legislative business.
H.R. 2581 - Verify First Act (Subject to a Rule) (Sponsored by Rep. Lou Barletta / Ways and Means Committee)
S. 1094 - Department of Veterans Affairs Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act of 2017 (Subject to a Rule) (Sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio / Veterans Affairs Committee)
WEDNESDAY, JUNE 14TH
On Wednesday, the House will meet at 10:00 a.m. for morning hour and 12:00 p.m. for legislative business.
H.R. 2372 - VETERAN Act (Subject to a Rule) (Sponsored by Rep. Sam Johnson / Ways and Means Committee)
THURSDAY, JUNE 15TH
On Thursday, the House will meet at 10:00 a.m. for morning hour and 12:00 p.m. for legislative business.
H.R. 1215 - Protecting Access to Care Act of 2017, Rules Committee Print (Subject to a Rule) (Sponsored by Rep. Steve King / Judiciary Committee)
FRIDAY, JUNE 16TH
On Friday, the House will meet at 9:00 a.m. for legislative business. Last votes expected no later than 3:00 p.m.
H.R. 2579 - Broader Options for Americans Act (Subject to a Rule) (Sponsored by Rep. Pat Tiberi / Ways and Means Committee)
In the News
Simpson introduces fire borrowing bill
By Bryan Clark, Post Register, June 9, 2017
Congressman Mike Simpson has reintroduced a bill that would treat funding for wildfire suppression in a manner akin to other disasters such as floods and tornadoes, rather than setting a fixed annual budget.
“I have seen the cost of wildfires in Idaho and the impacts it has on our forests when funds that are planned for forest management are used to fight wildfires,” Simpson said in a news release. “When more than 50 percent of an agency’s budget is unpredictable, you are creating a recipe for the unsustainable fire borrowing we see today that devastates our forests and costs taxpayers.”
“Fire borrowing” is a budgetary problem that many Western congressmen have focused on solving for many years, but so far such bills have failed to make it into law. The problem is driven by a combination of consistently worsening fire seasons and budgets that often lag behind firefighting costs.
Crystal Kolden is an associate professor of forest, rangeland and fire sciences at the University of Idaho. Kolden said there has been a clear, growing trend in the past decade toward ever-greater forest fires throughout the West.
“Primarily, what we’re seeing over the last several decades is a large increase in the fire area burned. Fires are much larger than they have been historically,” she said. “The fires are burning in uncharacteristic ways, particularly in certain regions. They are burning outside of the normal fire season. They are burning later in the fall and early in the spring. In some areas like southern California, they are even burning in the middle of winter.”
There are two primary drivers of this trend, she said. The first is climate change, which has meant hotter, drier summers and a longer fire season. The second is a century of forest management that focused on putting out fires immediately rather than letting the natural fire cycle reduce fuel loads.
In conversations with fire managers throughout the region, Kolden hears the same story over and over.
“I consistently hear, year after year, ‘We’ve never seen anything like this,’” she said.
Congress has for many years funded wildfire suppression by using the 10-year average cost of firefighting. But since fires are getting worse over time, that 10-year average consistently lags behind the actual cost.
“The expansion (of the fire season) is really one of the biggest things that blows up the fire budget,” Kolden said.
And one of the main areas of funding that gets borrowed from is fire prevention, activities such as reducing fuel loads in forests. That in turn makes bigger fires more likely. It’s a vicious cycle, Kolden said.
“We’re not getting ahead of the problem,” she said. “We just keep getting more and more behind.”
And that’s also what causes the “fire borrowing” problem. Under current law, when the U.S. Forest Service and other agencies face a year where fire costs exceed their fire suppression budget, the agency takes money meant for other purposes and devotes it to firefighting.
The scale of the growing wildfire problem can be easily seen in its steadily growing cost. Simpson noted that in 1995, only 16 percent of the Forest Service’s budget was devoted to fighting wildfires. By 2016, it had grown to 56 percent, and it is projected to hit 70 percent of the budget by 2025.
Getting more funding for wildfires that scales up with costs could face political obstacles once again. This year, President Donald Trump has proposed cutting funding to the Department of the Interior by more than 10 percent, including big cuts in some important areas for wildfire suppression.
Trump’s budget would cut funding for fire preparedness, fuel management and fire science and keep funding for fire suppression flat. The proposed 2018 budget for wildfire fighting would be about $1.4 billion, counting both Forest Service and Department of the Interior funds, the same amount as 2017. According to the National Interagency Fire Center, total wildfire costs since 2011 have ranged between $1.3 billion and $2.1 billion.
Department of the Interior wildfire preparedness funding would drop under Trump’s budget from $333 million to $324 million, a 3 percent cut. Fuel management would be cut from $179 million to $145 million, 19 percent. Fire science would be cut from $6 million to $2 million, 67 percent. Rehabilitation of burned areas would be cut from $21 million to $15 million, 29 percent.
Congress ultimately sets the budget.
Kolden said a flexible disaster funding mechanism would go a long way toward battling the ever-worsening wildfire problem.
“If we can develop a new structure to use funds from other sources, that will help us to get ahead of the game with fire prevention,” she said.