On Wednesday, Chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture (Committee) Representative Mike Conaway (R-Texas), held a business meeting to discuss legislative items submitted to the Committee for approval, including H.R. 2936 the “Resilient Federal Forests Act.”  The bill was criticized by Representative Marcia Fudge (D-Ohio) for “running afoul” of the National Environmental Protection Act (NEPA) and the Endangered Species Act (ESA). 

Representative Tom O’Halleran (D-Arizona) submitted multiple amendments to decrease the extent of the categorical exclusions under NEPA and ESA provided by H.R. 2936.  These amendments were not adopted by the Committee and were criticized by Republican members for defeating the purpose of the bill.  The Committee voted to advance H.R. 2936 after the bill was successfully amended by Vice Chairman Glenn Thompson (R-Pennsylvania). Thompson’s amendments inserted provisions for research and development into innovative wood products as well as additional provisions to expedite forest management projects in the wake of catastrophic wildfires.

The House Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on the Environment convened a hearing entitled “Air Quality Impacts of Wildfires: Perspectives of Key Stakeholders.”  There have been almost 49,000 wildfires in the United States this year, destroying nearly 8.5 million acres, and the emissions from these fires have serious impacts on air quality. In discussing how to prevent catastrophic fires John Bailey, Professor at Oregon State University, said the solution is “to use active and sustainable forest management today, including fire as one of the tools, to help mitigate the effects of future fires.”  In addition, Knox Marshall, Vice President of Resources at Murphy Company, argued the best method for mitigating the scope of wildfires is to address the poor health of forests through active forest management.  Representative Greg Walden (R-Oregon), chairman of the full committee, attended the hearing on behalf of communities in Oregon suffering from poor air quality resulting from wildfires.  Walden called on Congress to reform forestry management and “fire borrowing” to grant the U.S. Forest Service the funding and legal tools required to mitigate the damage caused by wildfires.