Perlmutter Successfully Amends, Advances Bill to Improve U.S. Preparedness and Response to Wildfires

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Rep. Ed Perlmutter (CO-07) successfully amended and advanced H.R. 5781, the National Wildland Fire Risk Reduction Program Act, comprehensive legislation to improve the nation’s preparedness, resilience and response to wildfires by identifying and investing in research and development (R&D), establishing warning and forecast systems, developing observation and sensing technologies, and standardizing data collection efforts.

In Perlmutter’s opening statement, he remarked, “Unfortunately, there’s still a lot we don’t know about wildfires, their behavior, and their long-lasting effects. The National Wildland Fire Risk Reduction Program Act will improve our understanding of wildfires and create a more coordinated, whole-of-government approach so we can better prepare for and respond to these worsening threats. Close to half of my state’s population lives in or near places prone to wildfires, so we need to get serious about our approach to wildfires to protect peoples’ lives, their homes, and our natural resources.”

Click HERE to see Perlmutter’s full opening remarks.

During the Science, Space, and Technology Committee markup, Perlmutter introduced four amendments:
1) Amendment to the Interagency Coordinating Committee’s Strategic Plan to expand research and development opportunities to better protect buildings from wildfire hazards as well as promote energy efficiency and environmental sustainability. The amendment would also expand FEMA’s collaboration with other agencies, like the Department of Energy, on hazard resilience research to protect buildings from wildfires.
2) Amendment to ensure the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) collaborates with other agencies, like NASA, on its work in fire weather forecasting and alerts.
3) Amendment to expand the Department of Energy’s activities under the Wildland Fire Risk Reduction Program to include fire modeling, forecasting fire spread, and analysis of wildfire fuels.
4) Amendment to expand opportunities for NOAA and NASA to purchase commercial data products from satellites and airborne data sources to support their efforts to improve our understanding of wildfires under the bill.        

In addition, Perlmutter cosponsored a fifth amendment to help ensure DOE better utilizes its resources and technology to improve understanding of wildfire science.

“In total, these amendments will further strengthen this important bill by allowing for more research and development into protecting our buildings and other assets and ensuring better resources for and coordination among federal agencies,” continued Perlmutter.

At the end of October, Perlmutter introduced H.R. 5781 along with other Science Committee members from the Western U.S. - U.S. Representatives Zoe Lofgren (CA-19), Jerry McNerney (CA-09), and Suzanne Bonamici (OR-01). The U.S. had its most active wildfire year on record in 2020, with 10.3 million acres burned, exceeding the 2000-2010 average by 51%. The 2021 wildfire season is on pace to be similarly devastating. 

About H.R. 5781

H.R. 5781 would establish a National Wildland Fire Risk Reduction Program with the purpose of achieving major measurable reductions in the losses of life and property from wildland fires through a coordinated federal effort to:

• improve the understanding and prediction of the fire environment, wildland fires, associated smoke, and their impacts, including in the wildland-urban interface (WUI); on communities, buildings and other infrastructure; and social and economic impacts;
• develop and encourage the adoption of science-based and cost-effective measures to prevent and mitigate wildland fire and associated smoke impacts; and
• improve the understanding and mitigation of the impacts of climate change and variability on wildland fire risk, frequency, and severity.

In addition, the Office of Science & Technology Policy (OSTP) would be tasked with establishing an Interagency Coordinating Committee on Wildland Fire Risk Reduction. This Committee would be co-chaired by the Director of the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) and include over 10 relevant federal agencies as members.

Responsibilities of program agencies would include:

• National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST):
 - to carry out R&D on community needs, buildings, materials, firebrands in the wildland-urban interface (WUI) and other areas within the agency’s expertise;
 - to support development of model building codes and fire codes, standard test methods, construction, retrofit best practices, and more; and
 - to coordinate Federal post-wildland fire investigations of fires in the WUI.

• National Science Foundation (NSF):
 - to support many of the basic science needs on wildland fire science, including prediction of fire risks, development and improvement of tools and technologies that enable and accelerate the understanding of wildland fires, understanding of fire risk messaging to communities, and more; and
 - to support undergraduate and graduate research opportunities and graduate and postdoctoral fellowships and traineeships in relevant fields of study

• National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA):
 - to conduct research, observations, modeling, forecasting, prediction, and historical analysis of wildland fires to improve understanding of wildland fires, and associated fire weather and smoke, for the protection of life and property and for the enhancement of the national economy;
 - to develop and provide accurate, timely, and effective warnings and forecasts of wildland fires and fire weather events;
 - to provide impact-based decision support services, seasonal climate predictions, and smoke forecasts;
 - to establish a Fire Weather Testbed to develop fire weather products and services for implementation; and
 - to support wildland fire and smoke research and development program.

• Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA):
 - to support public outreach, first-responders, and community preparedness, including the development of risk assessment tools and effective mitigation techniques for wildland fires, wildland fire-related data collection and analysis, public outreach and information dissemination related to wildland fires and wildland fire risk, and promotion of the adoption of wildland fire preparedness and risk reduction measures;
 - to promote better buildings and retrofit practices within the design and construction industry; and
 - to translate new information and research findings into best practices and conduct outreach to improve training of wildland firefighters.

• National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA):
 - to support relevant basic and applied scientific research, ensure use of all relevant Earth observations data, and explore and apply novel tools and technologies;
 - to support basic and applied wildland fire research and modeling activities, including competitively-selected research;
 - to develop and demonstrate a unified concept of operations for the safe and effective deployment of diverse air capabilities in active wildland fires; and
 - to develop and demonstrate affordable and deployable sensing technologies.

• Environmental Protection Agency (EPA):
 - to improve the understanding of wildland fire smoke impacts on communities, water, and outdoor and indoor air quality, plume characteristics and chemical transformations, and contribution of wildland fire emissions to climate forcing emissions;
 - to develop and improve tools, sensors, and technologies to accelerate the understanding, monitoring, and prediction of wildland fires and smoke exposure; and
 - to improve communication of wildland fire and smoke risk reduction strategies to the public.

• Department of Energy (DOE):
 - to research and develop tools, techniques, and technologies for withstanding and addressing wildland fire impact on energy infrastructure, providing real-time or near-time awareness of wildland fire risks to operation of energy infrastructure, early detection of malfunctioning electrical equipment, assisting with the planning and execution of the same and timely restoration of power, and improving electric grid safety and resilience during concurrent extreme weather events.

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