Congress returned early this month from recess and is in session for a few short weeks before recessing again in October. Discussions have picked back up on several issues of interest to CWSF members including fiscal year 2017 spending, energy legislation, wildfire funding and forest management.
Fiscal Year 2017 Appropriations
Time is running short to enact a Continuing Resolution (CR) that would fund the federal government beginning October 1. The Senate voted 72-26 on Wednesday (September 28) to pass a CR that would fund the federal government for 10-weeks (ending December 9). The legislation will now go to the House where it is expected to pass (as early as Wednesday) and be signed by the President.
Earlier this week negotiations on the short-term CR stalled and a procedural vote on the CR failed to garner enough votes in the Senate. There was disparity among Republicans and Democrats over the inclusion of (or commitment to address) federal aid assistance to Flint, Michigan. Lawmakers have since come to a resolution (consideration of Flint aid in the separate Water Resources Development Act) clearing the way for the CR to move forward.
Senate Agriculture Committee Markup - H.R.2647
The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, & Forestry (Senate Agriculture Committee) held a business meeting on September 13 to address the Resilient Federal Forests Act (H.R.2647), commonly known as the “Westerman bill.” Chairman of the Agriculture Committee, Senator Pat Roberts (R-KS) offered a Chairman’s amendment in the nature of a substitute with several similar titles and sections to his initial Emergency Wildfire and Forest Management Act (S.3085), which also has similarities to H.R.2647. (A summary of Chairman Roberts S.3085 was included in the CWSF August Newsletter.)
Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) offered a substitute amendment that ultimately failed to be accepted. The amendment would have provided a wildfire funding solution that funded 70 percent of the rolling 10-year average for wildfire suppression operations in the USDA Forest Service (Forest Service) and the Department of the Interior’s (DOI) budgets before allowing access to emergency funding via a budget cap adjustment to pay for fires thereafter. The Stabenow amendment also included the text of the Environmental and Economic Benefits Restoration Act of 2016 (S.3310) introduced by Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) and Senator Steve Daines (R-MT) that addresses the codification of the Forest Service State and Private Forestry Landscape Scale Restoration Program.
The Senate Agriculture Committee voted along party lines (11-9) to report Senator Roberts Chairman’s amendment out of Committee. An archived webcast of the markup is found here. The H.R.2647 substitute amendment is found here.
The National Association of State Foresters (NASF) - with assistance from the CWSF, the Northeastern Area Association of State Foresters and the Southern Group of State Foresters - submitted a letter to the Senate Agriculture Committee thanking the Committee for its leadership and interest on these important issues. In the letter, NASF calls attention to the critical need for a comprehensive wildfire funding solution that solves the practice fire borrowing and that addresses the continued erosion of non-wildfire suppression funding due to the increasing cost of the rolling 10-year average for wildfire suppression. A copy of the NASF letter can be found here.
House and Senate energy bill conferees tasked with reconciling the differences between the two versions of the energy reform bill convened for their first meeting on September 8. Conferees provided their opening statements and priority issues they would like to see included in a final energy bill; no discussion or consideration of bill text or amendments was allowed. An archived webcast of the meeting can be found here.
Of interest to CWSF members, the House revised version of the energy bill includes the Resilient Federal Forests Act (H.R.2647). The inclusion of the bill in the House version of energy reform legislation enables the subjects of wildland fire funding and forest management reforms to be included as part of the broader energy conference negotiations. Other subjects of interest to CWSF members that are contained in the Senate version of the energy bill include reauthorization of the Land and Water Conservation Fund and language regarding the carbon neutrality of forest biomass.
Conference leadership appears motivated to put forth a conferenced bill this Congress that the President can sign into law. Staff of the House and Senate conferees continue to meet and negotiate differences in the bills and it appears that negotiations will continue following the November elections.