Floor Speech

Date: Jan. 23, 2023
Location: Washington, DC


Mrs. FEINSTEIN. Madam President, I rise to speak in support of the Community Wildfire Protection Act, bipartisan legislation that Senator Daines and I are reintroducing today.

This bill would ensure that those communities that are deemed to be under the greatest threat from wildfire are eligible to receive existing Federal wildfire grants. This sounds obvious but unfortunately is not the case under current law.

The current definition of an ``at-risk community'' was codified in the 2003 Healthy Forest Restoration Act. That law requires that, in addition to experiencing significant wildfire risk, an eligible community must either be adjacent to Federal land or included on a list generated in 2001 consisting of voluntary input from States and Tribes.

Unfortunately, this 2001 list is far from objective or comprehensive. Communities on the list were not added based on an objective evaluation of their wildfire risk or threat to life and property, only whether an individual Governor or Tribal leader decided to add them. To make matters worse, there are obvious omissions from the list that show its inadequacy, and in fact, 19 States and territories never submitted a single community.

For example, large California cities such as Fresno, Fairfield, and Napa are not encompassed by this definition, all of which have experienced recent major wildfires. The list also omits Grizzly Flats, CA, which was devastated by the 2021 Caldor Fire, despite its proximity to Federal lands, as well as countless other small towns at great risk of wildfire.

These small, rural towns are frequently at the highest risk of wildfire and lack the resources to undertake wildfire resiliency projects on their own. Obviously, these are some of the towns that would most benefit from addition Federal help but because of the outdated definition, may not be eligible.

Aligning the definition in law for at-risk communities to today's environmental realities is more important than ever given the increased spread, frequency, and destructiveness of wildfires, especially in the West.

Our bill would simply end the practice of making Federal grants contingent on this outdated, incomplete list or proximity to Federal lands. Instead, our legislation would allow communities to be eligible based on the most up-to-date quantitative wildfire risk data for the entire United States--data already maintained by the U.S. Forest Service.

The 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act provided $1 billion for community wildfire resilience grants, and last year's Inflation Reduction Act included an historic $1.8 billion for wildfire resilience on federal forestlands. Congress has done the work of providing funding for wildfire resilience. Now it must ensure that these projects can be targeted where they are most necessary and completed with the swiftness that the wildfire crisis demands.

I am pleased to work with Senator Daines on this commonsense bill that will save lives, save communities, and ensure that Federal dollars are spent as effectively as possible. This change would help more communities in our home States of California and Montana and others throughout the West access Federal grants to reduce hazardous fuels around their communities and utilize authorities to complete them in a timely fashion, thereby reducing the threat posed by wildfire.

I am proud that our bill has received the support of the National Association of Counties, Rural County Representatives of California, the National Association of State Foresters, the Pacific Forest Trust, and the California Fire Safe Council.

Our bill is simple, but it would correct a glaring oversight in current law and ensure that billions of dollars in wildfire resiliency funding are applied where they are most needed. I urge my colleagues to cosponsor this legislation. ______