Forest Service Takes Important Step to Mitigate Wildfire Risk

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Washington, July 10, 2020 | Doug Levine (202-225-2315) | comments

Today, members of the Western Caucus released the following statements after the U.S. Forest Service issued its final rule to manage vegetation inside utility corridors. 

“This year, fire season is already having a catastrophic effect across the West. As we see fire season after fire season, one of the many ways catastrophic wildfires can start is ignition from nearby utility infrastructure, such as power lines. Today’s announcement will bring much needed authority to local governments and utility companies to manage areas surrounding electric transmission units, to help prevent these catastrophic fires. Giving this authority is common sense and will save lives, property, and money in the long-term,” said Congressional Western Caucus Chairman Paul Gosar (AZ-04).

“This common-sense decision by the USDA is a proactive measure that will reduce disastrous wildfires and ensure efficient maintenance of electricity distribution in Wyoming. For too long, shortsighted government bureaucracy and red tape threatened communities across our state by restricting the removal of trees that were dangerously close to power lines. I applaud the USDA’s new guidance that will streamline vegetation management and protect communities across Wyoming from preventable wildfires and blackouts,” said House Republican Conference Chairwoman Liz Cheney (WY-AL)

“Americans rely on a strong electrical grid, and in rural communities like ours in Central Washington, much of our critical energy infrastructure - including power lines and transmission facilities - is on or surrounded by federal land. Managing vegetation surrounding this infrastructure will not only strengthen the reliability of our grid, but it will help mitigate the risk of wildfires that plague our communities. Representatives Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) and Kurt Schrader (D-OR) must be commended for their leadership on this issue, and I am glad to see the U.S. Forest Service implementing this important rule for our communities across the rural West,” said Vice Chairman for Departments of Interior and  Energy Dan Newhouse (WA-04).

“Science-based forest management is a year-round issue, but it becomes particularly essential leading up to wildfire season. Unfortunately, litigious environmental groups often make it difficult for companies and private landowners to properly manage their forests, which can result in hotter, more intense and faster-spreading wildfires. A prime example of this is the 2018 Camp Fire, which was exacerbated by years of forest neglect. By enabling utility companies to clear dead brush and dry vegetation, USFS is taking a big step toward better forest management, especially in wildland-urban interfaces. It also will reduce electricity costs for Americans. I applaud USFS for their forward-thinking approach to these issues,” said Vice Chairman for Infrastructure and Forestry Bruce Westerman (AR-04)

“Thanks to Secretary Perdue and Forest Service Chief Christiansen for rightfully working to reduce the threat of wildfires and allow for safe transmission of electricity on our National Forests. Both the Superior and Chippewa National Forests in northern Minnesota contain crucial corridors for the delivery of power to our rural communities while keeping our utility workers safe,” said Congressman Pete Stauber (MN-08).

“I’ve said it once and I will say it again -- our forests are overstocked and waiting to burn. Unwieldy government regulations are standing in the way of common-sense risk reduction strategies, including hazard tree removal and improvements to the aging power grid. This new rule takes steps to tear down these burdensome regulations and builds on a fix to forest management I helped secure in a 2018 forest management package. With fire season—complicated by COVID—upon us, we must do everything in our power to prevent and aggressively extinguish deadly wildfires. I am grateful that the Forest Service and the Trump Administration are taking these needed steps to modernize our federal forest policy and protect our communities and environment from wildfire,” said Congressman Greg Walden (OR-02)

 “Great to see this work our USDA Forest Service is doing to mitigate wildfires while lowering the cost of delivering electricity to Idahoans. The expanded buffer around transmission lines will reduce vegetation-related wildfire risk for Idaho and other states facing these same challenges,” said Congressman Russ Fulcher (ID-01).

“Protecting the integrity of the electric grid is a no brainer. These rules that limit damage to electrical infrastructure and prevent wildfires are good for Utah. I am pleased to see the Forest Service improving the guidelines,” said Congressman Chris Stewart (UT-02)

“America’s electric grid is the vast, often forgotten foundation of today’s dynamic, data-driven economy. The USDA’s final rule regarding vegetation management in utility corridors improves our grid’s physical security and reduces the chances of accidental wildfires. Some of the most devastating wildfires were caused by damaged power lines. This rule removes federal roadblocks and ensures our nations utilities have a fighting chance to stop accidents from turning into disasters,” said Congressman Michael Burgess (TX-26)

Background courtesy of USFS:

Forest Service lands serve as an important link in the delivery of electricity to 70 million American homes and businesses. There are more than 3,000 electric transmission and distribution lines authorized on 18,000 miles of agency-managed land through special-use permits. The agency works closely with utility companies, developing partnerships that benefit the public and further the agency mission.

The new regulation will provide agency staff consistent direction when coordinating with utility companies for routine removal of dead and dying trees that pose fire risk to powerline structures. The agency also is increasing its process to review and approve operating plans and agreements for managing vegetation around lines and facilities on national forests and grasslands on abutting lands within rights-of-way for electric transmission and distribution lines.

The final rule can be viewed HERE.

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