Congressmen Doug LaMalfa and Jimmy Panetta introduced the Forest Protection and Wildland Firefighter Safety Act of 2023. This bill creates a Clean Water Act exemption for federal, state, local and tribal firefighting agencies to use fire retardant to fight wildfires. Fire retardant is an essential tool used to contain or slow the spread of wildfires. Currently the Forest Service and other agencies are operating under the assumption that a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permit is not required for the use of fire retardant because the regulations specifically state that fire control is a “non-point source silvicultural activity” and communications from EPA dating back to 1993 indicated a permit is not required.
This bill is needed because an extremist environmentalist group is suing the Forest Service under the Clean Water Act to require a NPDES permit to use fire retardant and they have requested an injunction on the use of fire retardant until the Forest Service receives this permit, which could take years. If the injunction is granted and fire retardant is not available for use in the 2023 fire year, firefighters and individuals living in forested areas would be in peril, millions of acres of forested land would be in danger and billions of dollars of infrastructure would be at risk.
LaMalfa and Panetta were joined by 22 members of Congress: Dan Newhouse, John Dua, Lauren Boebert, Rick Crawford), Young Kim, Ryan Zinke), Blake Moore, Burgess Owens, Mike Simpson, Trent Kelly, Ken Calvert, Pete Stauber, Darrell Issa, Mary Miller, Kevin Kiley and Matt Rosendal.
Senate Western Caucus Chair Cynthia Lummis introduced a companion bill in the Senate.
“Fire retardant is an essential tool in wildland firefighting, especially in the West.” LaMalfa said. “Not only is it absurd to try to take away that tool, it’s flat out dangerous. These regressive environmentalists are scared that a little bit of fire retardant could get into our rivers while we’re fighting another million-acre fire. But they care nothing about the forests burning down, people and animals fleeing for their lives and the land covered in ash. Pollution from even larger fires will not only harm fish, but the air pollution will choke vulnerable people up to hundreds of miles away.”
“Wildfires present an imminent danger to our communities in California and our firefighters need to be equipped and ready to fight them,” said Panetta. “This bipartisan legislation will ensure fire retardant remains a critical tool in our firefighting arsenal for the 2023 fire season. Protecting our communities and forests is paramount.”
“Radical environmental activists have no idea how dangerous it would be to take away the ability to use fire retardant during a wildfire,” said Lummis. “Wildland firefighters in Wyoming and throughout the west need to be able to use every tool available to them in order to control wildfires, which is why I’m introducing the Forest Protection and Wildland Firefighter Safety Act of 2023 to protect life, public lands and property from fires.”
“Firefighters risk their lives to protect our communities and our forests, and we should listen to them when they tell us that fire retardant makes their job safer and is an essential tool to protect lives,” said Congressional Western Caucus Chair Dan Newhouse. “The 2023 fire season has already started in the drier parts of the country and burned through over 60,000 acres in the first couple of months alone. We must ensure fire retardant remains available to our firefighters for the 2023 fire season in order to avoid the destruction of our communities, and I am proud to introduce this legislation alongside Congressman LaMalfa to do just that.”
“UAFA notes with increasing concern the potential for a federal court to impose a restraining order against the use of aerially applied fire retardant as early as this coming fire season. Fire retardant is a proven, essential tool in assisting wildland firefighters in their fight to contain, control and defeat wildfire. As this lawsuit continues, with the potential to run into its second year, UAFA strongly supports Congressman LaMalfa’s legislation, the Forest Protection and Wildland Firefighter Safety Act of 2023, which allows the federal, states, and tribal governments to continue the use of aerially applied fire retardants,” said John Gould, President of the United Aerial Firefighters Association.