A bi-partisan group of senators, including Sen. John McCain and Sen. Jeff Flake, are coming together and asking the Department of Defense to release surplus equipment to fight wildfires.
For decades, extra trucks, generators and other gas-powered equipment was given to fire departments to help fight wildfires. But last week the Department of Defense canceled the program because some of that equipment didn't meet EPA standards.
Below is the letter a group of 25 senators sent Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel on Thursday in hopes of reversing the freeze on surplus military equipment.
"Dear Secretary Hagel:
"It has come to our attention that the Department of Defense (DoD), citing the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), recently interrupted the transfer of surplus military equipment to states and local governments that are used for firefighting, natural disaster mitigation and relief, and law enforcement. We are deeply concerned that this decision was made during the peak of wildfire season.
"We understand that there may be confusion within DoD and EPA over the interpretation of regulations barring the transfer of federal vehicles that don't meet certain emission standards. As a result, the U.S. Army's Tank and Automotive Command (TACOM) and the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) announced last week that they were unable to transfer trucks to the U.S. Department of Agriculture Forest Service for loan to state forestry organizations under the Federal Excess Personal Property Program (FEPP) and the Firefighter Property Program (FPP). Every year, these two programs supply local firefighting agencies with over $150 million in excess federal equipment like trucks, pumps, generators, and engine parts. For many small and rural fire departments, federal excess equipment may be the only equipment they can afford. So far this year, 83% of all wildfires have been responded to by state and local fire agencies, most of which were on federal lands.
"We see no justification for government red-tape to stand in the way of helping first responders get the equipment they need to respond to wildland fires, floods, and other natural disasters. While we understand that DoD and EPA may be close to resolving this issue, we respectfully request that you provide us with your specific course of action for rescinding the restrictions placed on both the FEPP and FPP programs and clarify any vehicle title concerns raised by state foresters and law enforcement agencies."
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