Senate Passes Measure to Ease Wildfire Suppression Burdens

Sep 25, 2009

Interior Department receives $4.5 billion increase for environment

The U.S. Senate yesterday passed a Department of Interior appropriations bill by a strong 77-21 bipartisan vote, providing a $4.5 billion increase above 2009 funding levels for a variety of critical environmental agencies, programs and services. In doing so, the Senate also created an important separate source of funding for federal agencies to suppress large-scale wildfires.

The Senate measure includes a bipartisan plan for addressing a critical component of the country’s wildfire challenges – establishing a source of funding for the Forest Service and Department of the Interior for suppressing uncharacteristically costly wildfires: the Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement Act (FLAME).

“Senators Jeff Bingaman (D-NM) and Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) worked really hard to add the Flame amendment to the bill, gaining wide Democratic and Republican support,” said Cecilia Clavet, a forest policy analyst for The Wilderness Society. “The Flame fund marks a significant first step in addressing wildfire challenges by providing necessary funding to suppress wildfires. It also provides stable and full funding to keep critical non-fire programs and services from hanging on a limb.”

As a whole, the spending bill provides a 16-percent increase for the Interior Department in 2010 – including much needed funding for national parks and forests, wildlife refuges and other public lands.  It also makes critical investments in clean energy and research on global warming.

“There’s a new trend taking hold in the halls of Congress,” said Alan Rowsome, an appropriations analyst with The Wilderness Society. “The starvation budgets of the past are disappearing as Democrats and Republicans in the House and Senate are consistently making thoughtful investments to protect our natural resources and environment.”

While this spending measure is important because of what it accomplishes for the environment, The Wilderness Society notes that the bill is just as important for what it did not do.  A number of amendments to the spending measure were defeated that would have:

  • Nullified the EPA's ability to regulate harmful global warming pollution under the Clean Air Act.
  • Diverted Land and Water Conservation Funds (LWCF) away from their intended purpose of adding to our public lands and providing more recreational opportunities.
  • Handcuffed the Interior Department by forcing it to use former President Bush’s outdated offshore drilling plan.
  • Limited the decision-making ability of President Obama’s top climate advisor, Carol Browner.

As the spending bill now moves to a conference between House and Senate negotiators who will iron out the differences between the funding levels each body passed, The Wilderness Society continues to be concerned about several provisions that would undermine environmental protections at the U.S./Mexican border and at Point Reyes National Seashore in California.

Get more information regarding The Wilderness Society’s conservation funding priorities here.