With the House passage today of Wyden-authored legislation expediting the contracting process for seven new air tankers needed by the Forest Service to fight wildfires, U.S. Senator Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) sent a letter to President Obama urging him to quickly sign the bill that would waive a 30-day waiting period for awarding contracts for new planes. The legislation was introduced by Wyden in the Senate on Monday after news that two tragic accidents caused the loss of one and the grounding of another of the 11 available air tankers. The Senate bill, which was cosponsored by Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM), Mark Udall (D-Colo.), Jon Tester (D-Mont.) and Diane Feinstein (D-Calif.), unanimously passed the bill on Thursday.
"It is urgent that this legislation be signed by you as soon as possible to address the Forest Service's dire shortage of air tankers to combat ever mounting wildfires," Wyden wrote in the letter.
"It is clear that both Chambers of Congress felt that little could be served by simply delaying the award of these contracts while action is urgently needed. With hundreds of thousands of acres burning and a severely depleted capacity for sending air tankers to battle those fires, your signature on this legislation is desperately needed," Wyden continued in the letter.
The Forest Service notified Congress on May 25 that it planned to award four contracts for seven planes to help fill the government's need for large air tankers. Under current law, the Forest Service is required to wait 30 days before notifying the companies awarded the contracts. At that time, the Forest Service had 11 available large air tankers at their disposal, down from 44 in 2006. Ten of these tankers are over 50 years old and two of them were lost in last weekend's accidents. The Forest Service has made arrangements to borrow tankers from state governments, however, they are still woefully ill-equipped and any delay in awarding these contracts are days that these new planes are unable to contribute to wildfire suppression.