Santa Cruz County
CA

Agenda Item
DOC-2020-829

Direct the Chairman of the Board to send a letter of support for United States Senate Bill 4431, the Emergency Wildfire and Public Safety Act, as recommended by Supervisors Leopold and Friend

Information

Department:Board of Supervisors: First DistrictSponsors:First District Supervisor John Leopold, Second District Supervisor Zach Friend
Category:BOS First District - Board LetterFunctions:General Government

Attachments

  1. Board Memo
  2. US Senate Bill 4431 Bill Text

Board Letter

Recommended Action(s):

Direct the Chairman of the Board to send a letter of support for United States Senate Bill 4431, the Emergency Wildfire and Public Safety Act.

 

Executive Summary

United States Senate Bill 4431, the Emergency Wildfire and Public Safety Act, and its companion bill HR 7978, would provide federal agencies with critical new tools to better protect communities by reducing wildfire risk in federal forests, getting the private sector more involved in addressing dead and dying trees, improving best practices for addressing wildfires, and creating more resilient communities and energy grids.

 

Background

So far in 2020, over 4 million acres have burned in California, the most in recorded history. Of the top 20 most destructive fires in California history, 15 of these fires were in the last 5 years. The impacts from climate change are being felt in California, as we have been experiencing longer and more powerful fire seasons, shorter yet more intense rainy seasons, and more frequent extreme weather events like the lightning storm, which triggered 650 wildfires across the state in mid-August including the CZU August Lightning Complex Fire. This Fire burned over 86,000 acres and damaged or destroyed 1,431 structures in Santa Cruz County, 911 of which were residences, from August 15, 2020 through September 20, 2020.

 

Analysis

United States Senate Bill 4431 (SB 4431) will protect communities by reducing wildfire risk in federal forests by authorizing the Forest Service to undertake three priority wildfire mitigation projects. These projects would be limited to 75,000 acres in size and would include the installation of fuel breaks, clearing dead and dying trees, and conducting controlled burns. Additionally, SB 4431 would include a technical fix to ensure that the Forest Service consults with the Fish and Wildlife Service when new public peer-reviewed research demonstrates potential harm to threatened or endangered species.

 

SB 4431 would allow for expedited environmental reviews regarding the installation of fuel breaks near existing roads, trails, transmission lines and pipelines. It would also codify an existing administrative practice that allows the Forest Service to expedite hazardous fuel removal projects in emergency situations where it is deemed immediately necessary to protect life, property, or natural and cultural resources.

 

In order to incentivize the private sector to become more involved in addressing dead and dying trees, SB 4431 would establish a new biomass infrastructure program which would provide grant funding, totaling $100 million dollars, to build biomass facilities near forests that are at risk of wildfire. The funding from this grant would offset the cost of transporting dead and dying trees out of high-risk fire zones. The bill would also lift the current export ban on unprocessed timber from federal lands in the west, for trees that are dead, dying, or in instances where there is no demand for this timber in the United States.

 

It is clear that we need to develop and improve best practices for addressing wildfires throughout the country.  SB 4431 works toward this by expediting permitting for the installation of wildfire detection equipment (such as sensors, cameras, and other relevant equipment) and expanding the use of satellite data to assist wildfire response. The bill would also allow FEMA hazard mitigation funding to be used for the installation of fire-resistant wires and infrastructure and for the undergrounding of wires. Given the generational shortage of workers in the forest management field, SB 4431 would authorize a new workforce development program to assist in developing a career training pipeline for forestry workers. It would establish a new Prescribed Fire Center to coordinate research and training of foresters and forest managers in the latest methods and innovations in prescribed fire practices to reduce the likelihood of catastrophic fires and improve the health of forests.

 

With at least 8 of the top 20 most destructive fires in California caused by our electrical grid, we must create more resilient communities and energy grids. SB 4431 would expand the Energy Department’s weatherization program to allow for the retrofit of homes to make them more resilient to wildfire through the use of fire-resistant building materials and other methods. SB 4431 would establish a new $100 million grant program to assist critical facilities like hospitals and police stations become more energy efficient and better adapted to function during power shutoffs. The new program would also provide funding for the expanded use of distributed energy systems, including microgrids.

Body

Strategic Plan Element(s)

4.D. Climate Change: Increase resilience to climate change impacts, including sea-level rise and changing weather patterns.

 

Meeting History

Oct 20, 2020 9:00 AM Video Board of Supervisors Regular Meeting
RESULT:APPROVED [UNANIMOUS]
MOVER:John Leopold, First District Supervisor
SECONDER:Zach Friend, Ryan Coonerty
AYES:John Leopold, Zach Friend, Ryan Coonerty, Greg Caput, Bruce McPherson

Discussion