Representatives Doug LaMalfa (R–CA) and Jimmy Panetta (D–CA) introduced legislation to allow the continued use of fire retardant to battle forest fires.
The Forest Protection and Wildland Firefighter Safety Act 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. The U.S. Forest Service and other agencies are operating under the assumption that a National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) permit is not required for the use of fire retardant because regulations specifically state that fire control is a “non-point source silvicultural activity,” and communications from the Environmental Protection Agency dating back to 1993 indicated a permit is not required.
This bill is being introduced because an environmental 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 to halt 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.
Fire retardant is an essential tool, noted LaMalfa. “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.”
Opponents of the fire retardant “care nothing about the forests burning down, people and animals fleeing for their lives, and the land covered in ash,” he added. “Pollution from even larger fires will not only harm fish, but the air pollution will choke vulnerable people up to hundreds of miles away.”
LaMalfa and Panetta were joined on the legislation by 22 other members of Congress.
U.S. Sen Cynthia Lummis (R–WY) introduced a companion bill in the Senate.