Thank you, Chairwoman Johnson. I appreciate that this amendment in the nature of a substitute makes some improvements to the underlying bill, but I have to oppose it.
We wouldn’t be in this position if the bill’s sponsor hadn’t chosen to play politics with such an important issue. We could have worked together, across the aisle as our committee usually does. We would have been able to make key improvements to this bill. Republican staff started reviewing the draft and identified a potential lead Republican for this bill. But the bill’s sponsor refused to work with our member. This wasn’t a dispute over policy but instead a petty and vindictive partisan response that is way out of bounds for this committee. If we had been given the chance to provide real input, we could have made a much better bill.
For instance, we could have done more to improve NOAA’s forecasting abilities, which would give us more warning to better prepare for and fight wildland fires. We could have provided for commercial data buys which would significantly expand our access to satellite monitoring of wildfires. We could have improved how the Department of Energy coordinates with utilities to improve situational awareness about wildfires that could impact the grid. And we could have created an integrated fire center to better coordinate responses across federal agencies. Because we were not given the chance to provide that input, Republicans will be offering amendments this morning to address all the gaps in this legislation.
The most troubling gap, of course, is the fact that this bill completely excludes coordination with the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service. I understand the desire to avoid jurisdictional issues but it’s foolish to think we can address this issue without involving the two agencies with the biggest roles in preventing, mitigating, and fighting wildfires. I’m scratching my head about the point of this bill. If it were to make good policy and help folks in the West avoid the risks of wildfires, then the bill’s sponsor would have incorporated key agencies, taken more time to gather stakeholder feedback, and worked with Republicans to make the strongest bill possible, with the kind of bipartisan momentum that helps pass bills like this.
Unfortunately, I don’t think the goal here is to actually protect lives and property from devastating wildfires. I think the goal is just to pass a bill – a bill which will go nowhere from here – so Democrats can tell their constituents they’ve worked on wildfire legislation, even though they know it has no chance of being signed into law. This issue is too important for that kind of political gamesmanship. Wildfires know no political boundaries. I can’t think of a more pressing issue for our Members in the West. Americans are losing their homes, their histories, and their lives. We had a chance to advance strong bipartisan legislation to coordinate federal research and development to prevent this devastation.
I’m incredibly disappointed that instead of doing that, Democrats chose to move forward on a rushed, incomplete messaging bill that has no legislative future. That’s a shame because there is a lot of potential here. My hope is that we’ll have another opportunity to work together across the aisle to take the good elements of this bill and build it out into solid legislation. Until then, I will be voting against this ANS, and I’ve told my Members to proceed as they see fit.
I yield the balance of my time.