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Public Statements

Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act

Floor Speech

By:
Date:
Location: Washington, DC

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Mr. POLIS. I thank the gentleman from Colorado.

There is a new fire near Bailey, Colorado. In addition, just in this last week, the Black Forest fire has already destroyed 500 homes and killed two Coloradans. Last year was an unusually devastating year for wildfires, where there were 67,000 wildfires across the country.

Look, this Emergency Watershed Protection Program is absolutely critical for communities that are impacted by fires. That's why our entire delegation from Colorado--Democrats, Republicans--led by Mr. Gardner and I are all cosponsors of this amendment.

I'm proud to offer this commonsense amendment which would simply require that the Secretary of Agriculture give priority consideration to emergency watershed project funding for projects that prevent and mitigate the impacts of catastrophic wildfires. It simply establishes that as a priority.

For those of us who come from communities that have been impacted, we see firsthand the need for these funds to help protect drinking water, to help prevent erosion, to minimize potential hazards that can cause additional threats to people and property long after the fires have been extinguished. Now, we know we can't stop wildfires, but we can take measures to reduce their impacts on our communities both before and after the wildfire.

To be clear, this amendment doesn't prevent emergency watershed protection funding from being used for other types of disasters--and it will. It just stipulates that in the wake of severe fire emergencies, the Secretary of Agriculture will give priority to considering emergency watershed projects that impact these areas.

I strongly urge my colleagues to vote ``yes'' on the Gardner-Polis-Lamborn-Coffman-Perlmutter-DeGette-Tipton amendment--I don't think I've ever said all of our names before. I say to the gentleman from Colorado, our entire delegation is standing strong behind this amendment. I hope that we adopt amendment 119, the Emergency Watershed Protection amendment.

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Mr. POLIS. Mr. Chairman, I yield myself such time as I may consume.

In 1794, George Washington, our founding father, wrote to his gardener that he should ``make the most of the hemp seed and sow it everywhere.''

He wasn't alone. Thomas Jefferson grew hemp. Betsy Ross even made the first American flag out of hemp fiber. In fact, here is a flag right here that's made entirely from hemp.

Today, U.S. retailers sell over $300 million worth of hemp-related goods. It's not just flags. Hemp is found in over 25,000 products from lotions to soaps, to protein bars, to auto parts, to fuel. Yet somehow it's caught up in a completely unrelated drug war that prevents American farmers from growing this crop and forces us to import it from other countries. Our institutions of higher education can't even grow or cultivate hemp for research purposes.

Mr. Chairman, my bipartisan amendment, which I'm offering with my good friends Mr. Thomas Massie and Earl Blumenauer is simple. It would allow colleges and universities to grow and cultivate hemp for research purposes. Our amendment would only apply in States where hemp cultivation is already legal, such as my home State of Colorado.

I recently had an exchange with the premiere agriculture research university in my district, Colorado State University. This is an area that they want to get into it, but they feel that they're prohibited; and their attorneys are telling them that unless we can make this change, they can't actually do research on what has great potential to be an important crop for Colorado.

Mr. Chairman, let me be clear about something because there's been some misleading information that's been put out there by the Drug Enforcement Agency. Hemp is not marijuana. I'm very disappointed to hear that the DEA is circulating misleading talking points that claim that somehow hemp could be used as marijuana. At the concentration levels specified in our amendment, it is physically impossible to use hemp as a drug. Let me emphasize that. It is physically impossible to use hemp as a drug.

Voters in my home State of Colorado and across the country have made it clear that they believe industrial hemp is an agricultural commodity, not a drug. Our colleges and universities are the best in the world. This is a modest step to simply allow them to research the potential benefits, downsides, strains to grow of this important agricultural commodity. There's been technology in France that allows tracers to be put in to ensure that it doesn't get contaminated with anything that includes narcotics. There's lots of research that can be done, and this amendment is a very simple and pragmatic step to do it.

I reserve the balance of my time.

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Mr. POLIS. In addition, Colorado did legalize recreational use of marijuana. It also separately has legalized industrial hemp. There are more States that have legalized industrial hemp than have done anything with regard to recreational use of marijuana or even medicinal use of marijuana. All very different issues, and States are taking them up as we speak.

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Mr. POLIS. Mr. Chair, in my district in Colorado, and in other States across the West and Northwest, our trees, in my district, primarily lodgepole pines, have been plagued by pine beetle. Dendroctonus ponderosae has infected our trees. They're killed by a related fungus.

We have entire mountainsides for miles and miles where trees are dead and are now beginning to rot. It's really transformed, sadly, the landscape of Colorado.

The reason for the rise of the beetle is that we haven't had cold enough winters over the last several years to kill off the larva in the winter. It requires a certain number of days below a certain temperature.

So, again, this is not about preventing the spread of pine beetles. We have some ability to do that in small areas on private land. They can wrap trees, but we don't have a cost-effective way to do that across large areas.

What we do need to do, though, is once the trees have been killed, they represent a tremendous risk for forest fires, particularly when they're near power lines and other sensitive areas.

So what my amendment does is it adds language that makes it easier to access Federal land. In the West, much of our land, as the Chair knows, is owned by the Federal Government, and there's been varying difficulties in getting on to the Federal land, being able to make sure that they do mitigation where necessary, take down pine beetle infested trees near power lines, near watersheds, near populated areas, a very important but more active part of forest management.

Frankly, we'd love to find economically viable uses for the pine beetle kill. I have a desk in my office that's made from pine beetle kill. We also use it for biomass and other purposes. But many of it is back-country areas, and they're on Federal land.

And so this amendment is simply an amendment that allows a lease on lands under the jurisdiction of the Department of Agriculture, an expedited way that we can engage in some of the necessary clearing and forest maintenance to prevent the pine beetle kill from causing ancillary damage.

There is similar language in the Senate bill. I'm hopeful that we can work with Kristi Noem from South Dakota and others to achieve this important goal, increasing access to Federal lands for purposes of mitigating pine beetle damage.

We plan to continue to work on this issue, one of the top priorities from my district.

At this time I withdraw my amendment, and I yield back the balance of my time.

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