Mark Udall said the U.S. House of Representatives dismissed Colorado's needs and ruined the West's chances of immediate wildfire relief again this week when lawmakers there failed to include Emergency Watershed Protection Program funding in disaster-relief legislation. This neglect is particularly disappointing after the U.S. Senate passed legislation last year to provide robust support for Colorado's fire-damaged communities.
"I led the collaborative effort in the U.S. Senate late last year to help Colorado communities whose rivers ran black and drinking water tasted of ash. Colorado needed help and we delivered. But the House's rejection of this wildfire relief is unbelievable," Udall said. "Colorado and the West are still reeling from last summer's devastating and record-breaking wildfires, but the worst part is that entire communities are now vulnerable to floods and other long-term effects of the 2012 fires. The long-term costs and damages will make this now-rejected relief funding seem like mere peanuts.
"No one questions that we need to help the hurricane victims in the Northeast, but wildfire-relief is not 'pork.' Colorado's water supports tens of millions of people in Colorado and downstream in other states. I refuse to abandon our obligations to the wildfire victims, and I will keep pushing for this absolutely critical funding at every opportunity I can. I also plan to remind the American people that the dysfunction of the House of Representatives has not only delayed emergency funding for disaster-stricken areas in the Northeast, but it also has put Coloradans in danger. That is absolutely irresponsible."
Udall thanked members of the Colorado delegation for trying, but said the House's rejection of wildfire relief likely will mean more delays and prolonged issues with drinking water supplies for the residents of El Paso, Larimer and Weld counties.
Udall has been a strong advocate of ensuring that Colorado and the nation are appropriately equipped to confront the threat of wildfire -- before, during and after. Earlier this year, Udall led the charge to expedite the U.S. Forest Service's acquisition of seven next-generation air tankers. Udall also has been the leading voice for studying past fires to improve federal efforts to fight and mitigate wildfires.
Udall recently worked with Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) to offer a separate amendment to the Supplemental Appropriation for Disaster Assistance to fully fund the U.S. Forest Service's Wildland Fire Management Fund.
Last month, Udall and Sen. Michael Bennet (D-Colo.) introduced legislation to boost resources for the Emergency Watershed Protection Program. And last month, Udall joined with Bennet and Representatives Jared Polis, Mike Coffman and Cory Gardner to urge the president and Appropriations Committee leaders to include the EWP Program in the Hurricane Sandy disaster supplemental.
Udall and Bennet also worked last year to introduce an amendment to the U.S. House of Representatives' proposal to keep the government running for the next six months, commonly referred to as the Continuing Resolution, to secure emergency funding for the EWP Program.