Massive wildfire and drought package prepared for House votes

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A package of 48 bills related to wildfires, forest management and drought will hit the floor of the House in giant measure next week as Democrats try to push through their version of how best to tackling the climate crisis on public lands.

The bill, called the Wildfire Response and Drought Resiliency Act, HR 5118, would increase the pay and benefits of wildland firefighters, help the Forest Service fill fire management personnel gaps and promote larger fire management projects. forest management to reduce hazardous fuels — but without the exceptions to lengthy environmental reviews that congressional Republicans say are needed to make a difference.

The Rules Committee reviews the bill tomorrow, setting the parameters for the indoor debate and determining what amendments may be considered.

The bill’s provisions are broad and touch on issues promoted by both Democrats and Republicans, though fall short of the more aggressive approaches to land management that Western GOP lawmakers have advocated.

Among the highlights of the bill are provisions of the Tim Hart Wildland Firefighter Classification and Pay Parity Act, HR 5631, sponsored by Rep. Joe Neguse (D-Colo.), which would create a new job classification for wildland firefighters, would waive premium wage limitations in certain circumstances and provide hazardous duty pay and seven consecutive days of mental illness leave to firefighters.

These provisions close a wide gap between the compensation of federal wildfire crews and what their counterparts see in state agencies such as the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection and the administration. Biden has attempted to fill in administratively – to a point (green wireJune 21st).

The measure would provide $1.6 billion in authorized annual expenditures for Forest Service firefighter salaries and expenses and just under $2.4 billion per year for forestry stewardship and management salaries and expenses. forests, beginning with the fiscal year beginning October 1.

Forest management projects — primarily the reduction of hazardous fuels such as dead trees — are part of the bill, which would authorize $500 million a year for this purpose. The Department of Agriculture would select up to 20 major landscape-scale restoration projects over five years.

But the bill also specifies that projects must meet NEPA reviews, be limited in scope, and preserve mature and old-growth forests, as well as those that fall under highway-free zone protection.

In addition to wildfire and forestry provisions, the bill would enact dozens of measures aimed at addressing the 22-year drought that has shrunk major river basins in the western United States, threatening the water for agriculture and municipal users.

Funding of lakes, water management

Among the measures, the act would authorize up to $500 million to the Department of the Interior through fiscal year 2026 to prevent Lake Powell and Lake Mead from “falling to critical low water levels.”

That amount tops the $300 million the Interior previously received for voluntary cuts and increased conservation on the Colorado River under the bipartisan infrastructure agreement.

Interior took “extraordinary steps” earlier this year to raise Lake Powell water levels by 1 million acre-feet to ensure continued operations of its hydroelectric facilities (Greenwire, May 3)

The package also includes legislation from the New Mexico delegation dubbed “the Aquabus” (Daily O&MMay 9).

This includes HR 7792, the “Water Data Act”, which would create a multi-agency initiative to track and standardize information on flows, precipitation, groundwater, soil moisture, snow , evaporation, water quality and water use by various sectors.

It would also establish a “national water data framework” to “harmonize and align policies, programs, protocols, budgets and funding programs.”

“Water is life, and communities across New Mexico and the West are dealing with the effects of a thousand-year drought and unprecedented wildfires,” said Rep. Melanie Stansbury (DN.M.) , sponsor of the bill, in a statement to E&E News. “This package marks a historic moment in water management as we strive to adapt to the effects of climate change.”

The package also includes Aquabus’ HR 7793, the Rio Grande Water Security Act, which aims to create an integrated water resources management plan for the West’s third-largest river. This bill would also address funding for 18 New Mexico Pueblos along the Rio Grande whose water infrastructure is in dire need of upgrades.

The drought package also incorporates HR 6238, Stansbury’s “WaterSMART Access for Tribes Act,” which aims to facilitate the ability of tribal nations to participate in the conservation program by removing or reducing cost-sharing requirements.

“This trio of bills will help tribal communities unlock critical funding for water conservation and security, improve water management in the Rio Grande Basin, and revolutionize our water data systems. ‘water. This legislation will provide tools to help our communities meet our greatest water challenges for generations to come and I am proud to have included them in this package,” Stansbury said.

Water recycling bill

Also included in the massive drought proposal is Nevada Rep. Susie Lee’s (D) new HR 8434, the “Law to Facilitate Large-Scale Water Recycling and Reuse.”

The measure would authorize $700 million for a competitive water recycling grant program and remove a five-year sunset in the current program to allow for longer-term projects.

“Combating our drought is going to take every tool in our toolbox, and large-scale water recycling is an innovative way to conserve water as we face the worst drought in 12 centuries,” said said Lee.

A survey published in Nature Climate Change earlier this year showed that the current two-decade drought is the driest period since around the year 800. Subsequent analysis by the Bureau of Reclamation found that the only driest period was is produced in the second century (green wireJune 9).

Program: The rules hearing will be held Friday, July 22 at 1 p.m. at the H-313 Capitol and via webcast.

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