Cramer Fire Prevention Bill Moves Through House Ag Committee
WASHINGTON D.C. – The House Agriculture Committee today unanimously approved Congressman Kevin Cramer’s bill, the National Forest System Vegetation Management Pilot Program Act of 2017.
The National Forest System Vegetation Management Pilot Program Act of 2017 (H.R. 2921) authorizes the U.S. Forest Service (USFS) to create a privately funded pilot program to conduct limited and selective vegetation management near utility infrastructure outside of a right-of-way.
Deteriorating forest health, particularly in the western United States, has increased the frequency and severity of forest fires in recent years impacting air quality, imposing costs on taxpayers, and threating utility infrastructure. According to a September 26, 2017 briefing by Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, the USFS has spent approximately $2 billion this year in fighting fires – making 2017 the most expensive year on record already.
Cramer’s bill, which is co-led by Rep. Jared Polis (D-Co.), would reduce wildfire risk and associated costs by creating a firebreak and safeguarding critical infrastructure. “Costs for wildfire management within the Forest Service have gone up significantly, nearly tripling the amount of the agency’s budget in the last 20 plus years,” said Cramer. “A fire destroying utility infrastructure comes with its own costs from customer outages to replacement. With the private sector footing the bill, everyone benefits from this pilot program – the federal government cuts costs, the risk of fires is reduced, and utilities can better maintain their infrastructure, which benefits all of us.”
To incentivize private participation the bill replaces the current strict liability standard with a gross negligence standard for off-right-of-way work. In this case, because the work is voluntary and costs otherwise being borne by the federal government to conduct vegetation management are assumed by the utility – all under federal agency approval – a gross negligence standard is appropriate.
The bill is supported by the Edison Electric Institute, the association representing all U.S. investor-owned electric companies. According to a letter from association president, Thomas Kuhn, the bill would “leverage private-partnerships to advance the mutually beneficial goals of enhancing electric reliability and reducing wildfire risks. A similar Cramer proposal passed with bipartisan support on the House floor last year as an amendment to H.R. 8, the North American Energy Security and Infrastructure Act of 2015.