CRAMER VEGETATION MANAGEMENT BILL PASSES HOUSE
WASHINGTON D.C. – The House of Representatives today approved Congressman Kevin Cramer’s bill, the National Forest System Vegetation Management Pilot Program Act of 2017 by voice vote.
The National Forest System Vegetation Management Pilot Program Act of 2017 (H.R. 2921), sponsored by Rep. Kevin Cramer (R-N.D.) and co-led by Rep. Jared Polis (D-Co.), 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.
“A reliable supply of electricity is important on many levels, from human health and safety to commercial productivity,” said Cramer. “Yet, deep within forests managed by federal agencies the risk for outages has been elevated with declining forest health and increased forest fires. Utility companies want to keep the electrons flowing, but a high liability standard keeps them from vegetation management beyond their right-of-way. My bill creates a pilot program completely funded by participating utility companies under a reduced liability standard near their right-of-way so companies will go in to reduce potential hazards to disrupt reliable service.”
“Over the past few months, catastrophic wildfires have swept across the Western U.S.,” said Polis. “Getting trees and brush out of the way of power infrastructure reduces the risk of dangerous fires ever starting. By more carefully managing vegetation, we can prevent catastrophic forest fires and improve air quality, avoid costly damage to utility infrastructure, protect homes, and save lives. I’m proud that we are moving forward with this bill with unanimous, bipartisan support from the House of Representatives.”
Deteriorating forest health and increasing drought, particularly in the western United States, has increased the frequency and severity of forest fires in recent years endangering homes and lives, impacting air quality, imposing costs on taxpayers, and threating utility infrastructure. The bill would reduce wildfire risk and associated costs to utility infrastructure through a ten year pilot program funded by participating utility companies.
To remove a barrier for private participation the bill replaces the current strict liability standard with a gross negligence standard for work 75-feet off a particular right-of-way. 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 – 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.”