Wednesday, September 13, 2017

Harvey aid bill also helps agencies fund wildfire fighting

A helicopter with a water bucket battles
a blaze near Stevenson, Wash. (Associated
Press photo by Randy Rasmussen)
Weary Westerners have complained that the public has largely ignored the wildfires that are decimating the region, but their lawmakers are listening. "A bipartisan group of 12 senators from western states sent a letter this week to Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, urging that the wildfire provisions be included in the bill with the hurricane recovery funding," Bill Lucia reports for Route Fifty

The legislation was needed because of an issue known as "fire borrowing." Normally, when a federal agency uses up the money budgeted for firefighting, it must borrow money from other accounts, some dedicated to wildfire prevention. The appropriations bill passed in May provided $4.2 billion for wildland firefighting and prevention programs, but costs for fighting this year's fires are estimated to cost $300 million more than that. The senators asked that the borrowed funds be replenished promptly when the new fiscal year begins in October so that those agencies will not face long-term budget shortfalls. President Trump signed the bill on Sept. 6.

This year has been the worst wildfire season in years. Wildfires have burned across about 8 million acres of the U.S. this year, mostly in Western states. "That total exceeds the average number of acres burned annually during the prior decade, which is 5,558,384. As of Saturday, there were 67 large, active fires, affecting roughly 1.6 million acres," Lucia reports.

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