Bill to protect use of fire retardant for all wildland firefighting agencies passes out of committee

Today, the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee passed an amended version of Congressman Doug LaMalfa’s bill, H.R. 1586 — the Forest Protection and Wildland Firefighter Safety Act of 2023.

LaMalfa introduced this bipartisan bill with Congressman Jimmy Panetta earlier this year in response to a lawsuit to force wildland fire fighting agencies to obtain a Clean Water Act permit from the EPA, while the plaintiff in the case was seeking to completely ban the use of fire retardant until the permit could be acquired, even though it would take at least 3 to 5 years to obtain it.

The court ruled that wildland firefighting agencies would have to acquire the EPA permit, and the United States Forest Service could not be sued again as long as they discharge the retardant correctly while they undergo the process to receive the permit. However, the decision did not cover other wildland firefighting agencies’ — including CalFire – ability to use fire retardant until they obtain the required permit without fear of being sued.

To correct this, LaMalfa worked with fellow T&I Committee member, Congresswoman Val Hoyle, to amend H.R. 1586 to expand the court decision’s protection to all federal, state, tribal, and political subdivision agencies to use fire retardant without fear of getting sued until their permit is issued.

“It should be clear to everyone that fire retardant is an essential tool in wildland firefighting,” LaMalfa said. “The initial lawsuit that sought to ban its use was absurd. How can anyone suggest that we should risk burning millions of acres each year to prevent a drop of extensively-tested fire retardant touching a 300-foot buffer zone around waterways? While the court’s decision was a step in the right direction, this bill ensures the protections are given to other firefighting agencies — including CAL FIRE. I’m pleased to see this bill move and look forward to it becoming law.”

“We’re facing a wildfire crisis in the West, and we need firefighters to have every possible tool in the toolbox to protect our communities and forests,” said Hoyle. “I support Clean Water Act protections and guardrails. I also believe our wildland firefighters need to know that they won’t wake up one morning to a judge’s order to stop using flame retardant in the middle of fire season. Thank you to Representative LaMalfa for working with me to find bipartisan agreement on this issue.”