Rep. Maxine Waters, Chair of the House Committee on Financial Services, has announced the House passage of “The Wildfire Response and Drought Resiliency Act,” which included her bill, HR 8483, “The Wildfire Insurance Coverage Study Act of 2022.” HR 8483 requires the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to conduct studies assessing the danger that wildfires increasingly pose to communities and how the market for homeowners’ insurance is responding to this growing threat.
“I am so pleased that my bill was included in the Wildfire Response and Drought Resiliency Act,” said Rep. Waters. “As the effects of climate change continue to worsen, especially in my home state of California, where whole communities have been devastated by wildfires, we need to better understand how to prepare and protect families and their homes against this growing risk. I urge my colleagues in the Senate to get this bill to the President’s desk so we can ensure families have the protection they need.”
To improve wildfire response, The Wildfire Response and Drought Resiliency Act:
- Establishes new hiring authorities and a minimum basic pay rate (approximately $20/hour) for wildland firefighters, as well as mental health leave and hazard pay.
- Authorizes a 10-Year National Wildfire Response Plan for landscape-scale projects across the country.
- Provides tools and resources to assist communities’ wildfire activities, including prescribed fires, and supports opportunities for Tribes and Conservation Corps in wildfire activities.
To improve drought resiliency, The Wildfire Response and Drought Resiliency Act:
- Provides $500 million to prevent key reservoirs of the Colorado River from declining to unsafe levels.
- Invests in innovative drought-proof water infrastructure, including water recycling and desalination projects.
- Secures water reliability for Indian Country, by advancing tribal water rights settlements, investing $1 billion in tribal clean water access, and supporting technical assistance for tribal water needs.
- Supports the development of modern water management data and technology.
- Protects and restores important ecosystems and wildlife populations that have been impacted by drought and climate change.
To ensure a comprehensive, whole-of-government approach to wildfire and drought, The Wildfire Response and Drought Resiliency Act also:
- Improves wildfire-related programs at the Department of Energy, Federal Energy Regulatory Commission Federal Emergency Management Agency, U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and U.S. Fire Administration and provides improved assistance and relief for communities that have been impacted by recent wildfires.
- Establishes the National Disaster Safety Board and directs the President to establish a National Wildland Fire Risk Reduction Program.
- Advances environmental justice for communities that have been disproportionately harmed by environmental discrimination and climate change-induced wildfire and drought.
- Updates the Stafford Act, law that dictates FEMA’s response to a disaster, enabling FEMA to respond more effectively to wildfires.
“As climate change gets worse and temperatures rise, we know that droughts will become more destructive and wildfires more deadly,” said Sen. Dianne Feinstein. “That’s why these two issues are my top priorities, and I’m pleased that several provisions I have authored this year are included in the bill that passed today. I am working to ensure the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will move similar legislation later this year.”
Wildfires are now a year-round threat, burning larger areas with greater intensity, and wildfire activity is only projected to increase as drought and climate change reduce soil moisture and convert living forests into dry fuel. Climate change has also made drought conditions more severe and persistent, with parts of the western U.S. experiencing their driest conditions in more than 1,200 years. Together, the effects of drought and wildfire cost the nation more than $20 billion in 2021 alone.
“As extreme weather events become increasingly common, we continue to see the heartbreaking impacts of wildfires on American families,” said Illinois Rep. Cheri Bustos. “I was proud to help pass comprehensive legislation to help us prevent these catastrophes and make communities more resilient.”