Democratic News

Earlier this month, the Senate passed an amendment to the Defense Appropriations Act (sponsored by Sen. Bingaman and cosponsored by Sens. Domenici, Burns, Dorgan, Cantwell, Reid, Salazar and Wyden) to provide $275 million in additional funding to the Federal agencies that fight wildfires. The bill, including the amendment, passed the Senate 98-0.
 
Today, Sen. Bingaman and other Western Democrats sent a letter to the chairmen and ranking members of the Defense Appropriations Bill conference urging them to include the funding in the final package.  "Getting this money for wildfire suppression is important to firefighters and communities across the West,” Bingaman said.  “The extra money in this amendment is the least that Congress can do to allow firefighters to keep battling wildfires in the coming weeks without delaying or cancelling hundreds of projects that will help prevent future wildfires.”
 
 
September 21, 2006
 
 
The Honorable Ted Stevens                                        The Honorable C. W. Bill Young
The Honorable Daniel Inouye                                      The Honorable John Murtha
 
Gentlemen:
 
We are writing to urge you to include in the conference report for the Department of Defense Appropriations bill (H.R. 5631) the $275 million in emergency supplemental funding for wildfire suppression passed by the Senate.  The Forest Service and Department of the Interior are expected to exhaust their appropriated funds for wildfire suppression well before the end of this fiscal year, and this money will be necessary to cover those expenses and repay funds that were borrowed from other accounts.
 
This has been a very busy year for wildland firefighters, who have had to contend with 82,599 fires on 8,968,517 acres across the country to date.  But fiscal year 2006 appropriations were calculated based upon the ten-year average of 60,726 fires on 4.9 million acres.  As a result, the agencies not only have exhausted their FY2006 appropriations, but they also are expected to exhaust in the coming days the $500 million emergency reserve fund that Congress set aside in 2004.  When they do, they will be forced to borrow funds from other agency accounts, in what the Chief of the Forest Service has called “the chaos of transfers.”
 
The Government Accountability Office reported on this chaos in 2004, concluding that “despite Forest Service and Interior efforts to minimize the effects on programs, transferring funds caused numerous project delays and cancellations, strained relationships with state and local agency partners, and disrupted program management efforts. . . . In some cases, these cancellations and delays increased costs and the time needed to complete the projects.  Although the agencies transferred funds to help suppress wildfires, doing so actually resulted in delays of some projects that were intended to reduce fire risk and improve firefighting capabilities . . . .”  (GAO-04-612). 
 
The $275 million passed unanimously by the Senate as amendment number 4915 will help avoid these impacts and, to the extent there are any funds left over, will make an important contribution to replenishing the emergency reserve account.  The FY2005 Defense Appropriations bill carried $500 million in emergency wildfire suppression funding, and it appears to be the only vehicle for promptly appropriating this important funding this year.  Like you, we are committed to setting priorities and believe in wise use of taxpayer dollars.  This is a true emergency, and we believe strongly that we must respond and support these critical firefighting efforts.  We therefore urge you to include this emergency funding in the conference report.
 
 
Sincerely,
 
Bingaman         Cantwell           Reid          Wyden        Salazar             Baucus             Murray             Boxer               Feinstein