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Senator Johnson Calls for Senate Vote to Reform Wildfire Funding

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Senator Tim Johnson pressed the Senate leadership to allow a full Senate vote on their bill for funding wildfire suppression. (KELO AM)
Senator Tim Johnson pressed the Senate leadership to allow a full Senate vote on their bill for funding wildfire suppression. (KELO AM)

Washington D.C. (KELO AM) - Senator Tim Johnson and a bipartisan group of Senators pressed the Senate leadership to allow a full Senate vote on their bill to fix the broken system for funding wildfire suppression.

In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), all 14 cosponsors of the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act of 2013 urged the Senate leaders to quickly bring the bill to the Senate Floor for a full vote or find another appropriate piece of legislation that would move the bill forward.

“This bill would end the dysfunctional and destructive approach towards funding wildfire fighting,” the Senators wrote. “The current cycle of underfunding, and even raiding, programs used for critical forest restoration and wildfire prevention work  results in having to spend even greater amounts fighting ever larger and more severe wildfires.”

Currently, wildfire funding is budgeted using a 10-year average of the costs of wildfires. The actual costs of wildfire suppression efforts have exceeded the appropriated amount in 8 of the past 10 years. This year, the U.S. Forest Service and the Department of the Interior (DOI) estimated that they will spend about $470 million more than they have available to fight wildfires.

The president included the wildfire funding plan in his fiscal year 2015 budget proposal to Congress. The bill has widespread support, including endorsements from more than 200 organizations, such as the Western Governors’ Association, the Nature Conservancy, and the National Rifle Association.

Full text of the letter can be found below:

June 26, 2014

Dear Majority Leader Reid and Minority Leader McConnell:

We write to ask for your support in bringing S. 1875, the Wildfire Disaster Funding Act, to a full vote before the U.S. Senate and including it in any upcoming appropriate legislative vehicle.

This bill would end the dysfunctional and destructive approach towards funding wildfire fighting. The current cycle of underfunding, and even raiding, programs used for critical forest restoration and wildfire prevention work  results in having to spend even greater amounts fighting ever larger and more severe wildfires.  This legislation’s overarching policy goal is one of good budgeting.  The reality is that the government has historically – and will in the future –fully fund fire suppression.  But it is inefficient and ineffective to provide those resources on an ad hoc basis and as a result of taking those funds from other critical budget accounts.  Budgeting in this manner does not allow for appropriate planning and ultimately does not provide for an effective allocation of funds to fight wildfires or take care of the national forests.

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) and the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) provided us with an analysis that found that since S. 1875 is a budget process bill, no cost is assigned to this legislation by OMB or CBO for enforcement of either the discretionary spending limits or PAYGO.  Furthermore, OMB’s analysis concluded that under S. 1875 total funding for disasters is not expected to increase above currently estimated levels.

S. 1875 has bipartisan support in both the Senate and House, support from the Administration, and the endorsement of over 200 organizations including the Western Governors’ Association, the Nature Conservancy, the Federal Forest Resource Coalition, the National Rifle Association, and the National Association of State Foresters.

Thank you for your consideration and we look forward to hearing from you. 

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