Republican members of the House Natural Resources Committee today voted against a series of amendments offered by Democrats to address catastrophic wildfire risk across the country and provide much needed relief to communities impacted by extreme weather events. The underlying legislation, sponsored by Republican Congressman Scott Tipton (R-Colo.), also included anti-environmental language that would have no chance of passage in the Senate.
"In voting against reasonable proposals aimed at moving a fire prevention and response bill forward in a bipartisan fashion, once again House Republicans showed that they are willing to put party politics and ideology over commonsense solutions," said Rep. Ed Markey (D-Mass.), the ranking member on the House Natural Resources Committee. "The Republicans today faced the proverbial place where two roads diverge in the forests. Unfortunately, they took the road they always travel which puts party allegiance and ideology over desperately-needed solutions."
Republicans first rejected an amendment that is nearly identical to legislation already approved by the Senate on a bipartisan basis to address the bark beetle insect epidemic in the American West. This effort was defeated by the Republicans in a vote of 27 to 19.
To avoid another controversial and divisive debate on forest policy and focus on practical solutions, Rep. Ben Ray Luján (D-N.M.) offered an amendment to replace language in Rep. Tipton's bill with two universally-supported provisions to allow for more thinning work to begin in our forests and wildlife areas. Republicans defeated this amendment in a vote of 27 to 20.
"It's unfortunate that Republicans are standing in the way of commonsense measures that have passed with bipartisan support in the Senate and can address the devastating forest fires that have destroyed hundreds of thousands of acres of national forests and public lands in the West," said Rep. Luján. "The Stewardship Contracting and Good Neighbor Authorities are critical land management tools that not only improve the health of our forests and reduce the threat of wildfire, but they also support our local economies and are a source of jobs for our communities."
Rep. Lujan's amendment would have approved the extension and expansion of two popular programs -- Stewardship Contracting and Good Neighbor Authority -- that provide federal land managers more tools to address fire risk from overgrown forests. Adoption of Rep. Luján's amendment would have readied the bill for vote by the entire House following August Congressional recess. The Senate has already approved identical stewardship contracting language as part of the Senate Farm bill that passed with over 60 votes.
Republicans then rejected an amendment by Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) to provide seasonal forest workers the same access to federal healthcare that President Obama recently provided to wildland firefighters. Republicans unilaterally rejected the amendment that would have made a real difference to communities facing the threat of wildfire and people working to reduce fire risk. Republicans defeated Rep. Grijalva's amendment in a vote of 26 to 19.
"President Obama rightly understands the dedication, sacrifice and service of the brave men and women that work to combat forest fires across our public lands, and his decision to grant access to federal health care benefits to the entire corps was the right one," said Rep. Grijalva. "Combating forest fires starts with preventive work. In my mind, the people that do this work deserve the same coverage as firefighters, and my amendment would have extended those benefits to seasonal employees engaged in mitigation work. Unfortunately, my Republican colleagues decided they didn't need any help."
Republicans in the full House have also opposed these commonsense solutions. In June, Rep. Ed Perlmutter (D-Colo.) offered an amendment on the House floor to a broader lands package to expedite thinning activities on federal lands. All but two Republicans voted against this amendment.