Representative Maxine Waters, chair of the House Committee on Financial Services, announced the House passing “Fire Response and Drought Resilience Actwhich included his invoice, HR 8483, “Forest Fire Insurance Cover Study Act 2022.” HR 8483 requires the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct studies assessing the danger that wildfires increasingly pose to communities and how the insurance market home is responding to this growing threat.
“I am so pleased that my bill has been included in the Wildfire Response and Drought Resiliency Act,” Rep. Waters said. “As the effects of climate change continue to worsen, especially in my home state of California, where entire communities have been devastated by wildfires, we need to better understand how to prepare and protect families and their homes against this growing risk.I urge my colleagues in the Senate to send this bill to the President’s office so that we can ensure that families have the protection they need.
To improve wildfire response, the Wildfire Response and Drought Resiliency Act:
- Establishes new hiring powers and a minimum base rate of pay (approximately $20/hour) for wildland firefighters, as well as mental health leave and hazard pay.
- Authorizes a 10-year national wildfire response plan for landscape-scale projects across the country.
- Provides tools and resources to assist community wildfire activities, including prescribed fires, and supports opportunities for tribes and conservation corps in wildfire suppression activities.
To improve drought resilience, the Wildfire Response and Drought Resiliency Act:
- Providing $500 million to prevent major Colorado River reservoirs from declining to dangerous levels.
- Invests in innovative drought-resistant water infrastructure, including water recycling and desalination projects.
- Ensures water reliability for Indian Country, advancing settlements of tribal water rights, investing $1 billion in tribal access to clean water, and supporting technical assistance for tribal water needs.
- Supports the development of modern water management data and technologies.
- Protects and restores important ecosystems and wildlife populations that have been impacted by drought and climate change.
To ensure a comprehensive, whole-of-government approach to wildfire and drought, the Wildfire Response and Drought Resiliency Act:
- Improves wildfire-related programs at the Department of Energy, the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission’s Federal Emergency Management Agency, the United States Environmental Protection Agency, and the U.S. Fire Administration and provides enhanced assistance and relief to communities that have been impacted by recent wildfires.
- Establishes the National Disaster Safety Council and directs the President to establish a National Wildfire Risk Reduction Program.
- Advances environmental justice for communities that have been disproportionately harmed by environmental discrimination and climate change-induced wildfires and drought.
- Updates the Stafford Act, the law that dictates FEMA’s disaster response, allowing FEMA to respond more effectively to wildfires.
“As climate change worsens and temperatures rise, we know droughts will become more destructive and wildfires more deadly,” said Senator Dianne Feinstein. “That is why these two issues are my top priorities, and I am pleased that several provisions that I drafted this year are included in the bill passed today. I am working to ensure that the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will propose similar legislation later this year.
Wildfires are now a year-round threat, burning larger areas with greater intensity, and wildfire activity is only expected to increase as drought and climate change reduce humidity soil and convert living forests into dry fuel. Climate change has also made drought conditions more severe and persistent, with parts of the western United States experiencing their driest conditions in more than 1,200 years. Together, the effects of drought and wildfires have cost the nation more than $20 billion in 2021 alone.
“As extreme weather events become more common, we continue to see the heartbreaking effects of wildfires on American families,” Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos said. “I was proud to have helped pass comprehensive legislation to help us prevent these disasters and make communities more resilient.”