To watch a video of Senator Manchin’s opening remarks, please click here.
To watch a video of Senator Manchin’s questioning, please click here.
Washington, DC – Today, the U.S. Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee held a hearing to examine wildfire management in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. U.S. Senator Joe Manchin (D-WV), Ranking Member of the Committee, highlighted efforts Congress has taken to address concerns over COVID-19’s influence on firefighter safety this upcoming fire season.
“Starting next month, pretty much the entire western US is predicted to have more wildfires than they usually have. I understand the agencies have been planning for this since March, and while their planning and preparations have been underway for this summer, Congress has also been doing our part. The CARES Act included an additional $270 million for the firefighter agencies to better prepare for this summer. Last month, I joined Chairman Murkowski and Ranking Member Udall in sending a letter to Vice-President Pence asking for his assistance, as the head of the Corona-virus Taskforce, to remove any red-tape that had been hindering firefighters ability to acquire PPE. I understand that that by-and-large has now been done. And just yesterday I introduced a bill with Ranking Member Udall to ensure that any firefighters that contract COVID-19 will be supported. Our bill ensures that firefighters can have one less thing to worry about as they go about doing their jobs,” Ranking Member Manchin said.
Ranking Member Manchin also applauded the firefighter protections in place put forward by the Alaska Division of Foresty. He questioned Mr. John Phipps, Deputy Chief of State and Private Forestry for USDA Forest Service, and Ms. Amanda Kaster, Acting Deputy Assistant Secretary for Land & Minerals at the U.S. Department of the Interior, on their agency’s unwillingness to adopt similar testing protocols and failing to protect the livelihoods of firefighters combatting the duel threats of wildfires and COVID-19.
“Testing for fighters is crucial. We need to make sure this is cleared up. This is ridiculous. Alaska’s Division of Forestry takes a position that is more inclusive to the firefighters themselves, and protecting them. For the federal government to refer to ‘CDC Guidelines’ as an excuse to not test every firefighter is unacceptable. CDC Guidelines are based on the fact that we don’t have enough tests. This government will not pay for the testing that needs to be done. They won’t mobilize. They won’t commercialize under the Defense Production Act in order for us to have the tests that are needed. What person wants to go back to work unless they know the person they are working with is not infected,” Ranking Member Manchin said.
The hearing featured witnesses from the U.S. Department of the Interior, USDA Forest Service, National Association of State Foresters, and Alaska Division of Forestry. To read their testimony click here.
To watch the hearing in full, please click here.