This summer, California has seen more devastating wildfires than we’ve experienced in recorded history, building on a trend of record-breaking years. The science is clear: immediate, bold action is needed to protect our communities from extreme weather and climate-driven megafires.
I’m sending you this message to keep you up to date with the work I have been doing to help Californians prepare for and recover from wildfires, and my efforts to take meaningful action on climate change and land management so we can prevent future disasters.
Last November, I introduced the Wildfire Defense Act with Senator Kamala Harris to help local communities defend themselves from the growing danger of wildfires. This bill provides funding to design and implement new Community Wildfire Defense Plans driven by community members, first responders, and relevant state agencies. The bill supports science-based methods to prevent and mitigate wildfires such as clearing brush and other fire hazards, making critical infrastructure more resilient, and improving access for first responders.
My keystone public lands bill, the Northwest California Wilderness, Recreation, and Working Forests Act, which passed the House earlier this year, also includes several fire-prevention provisions: it requires federal agencies to develop a coordinated approach to fire management in new wilderness areas, and it designates a new 730,000 acre restoration area where a fuels reduction program can reduce the danger of severe fires.
I also added fire emergency planning provisions to the Disaster Recovery Reform Act in the last Congress, later signed into law. The new law will allow states to apply for Hazard Mitigation Grants for wildfire prevention and mitigation efforts, and includes a new planning provision that I worked on with Sonoma County based on our experience in recent years: in planning for evacuation in response to disasters, FEMA needs to consider special needs populations who might need additional help such as individuals with disabilities, homeless, and the elderly.
The work continues. Just last week, I voted to pass the Clean Economy Jobs and Innovation Act, which addresses the threat of wildfires on multiple levels by calling for:
- Federal mapping of wildfire risks around utilities for purposes of grid hardening, vegetation management, and more.
- EPA research into wildfire smoke emissions modeling and smoke forecasts.
- Data collection on the influence of building materials on structure fires.
- Weatherization enhancement programs to cover the use of heat and fire resistant materials for vulnerable low-income households.
- A program to provide rebates to homeowners to defray the cost of retrofitting homes to be wildfire resistant.
Many of my constituents were at risk earlier this year when the Federal Emergency Management Agency attempted to claw back disaster assistance funds granted to wildfire victims. In response, I introduced the bipartisan Preventing Disaster Revictimization Act to prevent FEMA or any agencies from taking back disaster assistance funds mistakenly awarded to disaster victims who applied for the help in good faith and spent the money to begin rebuilding their lives. Around that same time, I advocated for those wildfire victims by urging FEMA to drop its attempts to take money from the $13.5 billion trust PG&E had set aside.
I also joined my fellow members of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee on the FEMA Assistance Relief Act of 2020 to help ease financial burdens on states, as well as local and tribal communities that have been impacted by disasters. This bill, which was approved this week by the full committee, would increase the Federal cost share of disaster relief from 75% to 90% so that communities addressing emergencies, disasters, and COVID-19 aren’t financially ruined.
Just today, I wrote to President Donald Trump, along with the entire California delegation, asking him for full and fair consideration of the State of California’s request for a major disaster declaration to respond to September 2020 wildfires.
I have also developed a new Wildfire Resources Guide to provide you with the information and resources needed to safely navigate these fires and the eventual recovery when we come out on the other side. The guide can be found here or by visiting my website. It includes information about all the federal resources currently available to those affected by the fires, including FEMA assistance and Small Business Administration loans. The guide will be updated if and when more resources become available.
My staff and I are here to help in any way we can. We are here for the long haul. Please don’t hesitate to call one of my district offices if you need assistance. If we aren’t the right place to get you what you need, my staff will guide you to the state and local resources too.
This is just some of the work I’ve been doing in my role as your representative. If you would like to keep up with what I am doing, please subscribe to my newsletter, and follow me on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.
Thank you, and stay well.
Member of Congress