Legislation introduced this week would address the “constant threats to the electric grid that have directly threatened the survivability and functionality of critical United States infrastructure,” and “update the Federal Emergency Management Administration’s (FEMA) guidelines forreleasing disaster relief funds to ensure victims of wildfires have access to the same resources as victims of other natural disasters.”
The Critical Infrastructure Protection Act was first introduced last December by Rep. Trent Franks (R-Ariz.), chairman of the House Committee on the Judiciary Subcommittee on the Constitution and a member of the Subcommittee on Courts, Intellectual Property and the Internet and vice-chairman of the House Committee on Armed Services Subcommittee on Emerging Threats and Capabilities and a member of the Strategic Forces Subcommittee.
The House passed the legislation, which would better secure critical infrastructure against electromagnetic pulses, or EMP, but it went no further in the Senate.
Franks said at the time that, "The Department of Homeland Security has the specific responsibility to secure the key resources and critical infrastructure in the United States, to include power production, generation and distribution systems. The US electric grid is fundamental to our continued way of life and practical steps must be taken to protect those critical elements that serve the United States from all threats. The negative impacts on US financial, agricultural, medical and other critical societal infrastructure are potentially catastrophic in a severe electromagnetic pulse or severe space weather event.”
"Passage of this legislation will help the United States prevent and prepare for such an event by including large-scale blackouts into existing national planning scenarios, including educational awareness for first responders to protect critical infrastructure,” Franks said. “Most importantly, it requires specific plans for protecting and recovering the electric grid and other critical infrastructure from a dangerous EMP event.”
Continuing, Franks said, "There is a moment in the life of nearly every problem when it is big enough to be seen by reasonable people and still small enough to be successfully addressed. Those of us across America live in a time when there stillmay be opportunity for the free world to address and mitigate the vulnerability that naturally occurring or weaponized EMP represents to the mechanisms of our civilization. This is our moment.”
In reintroducing the bill this week, Franks said, "The Department of Homeland Security has the specific responsibility to secure the key resources and critical infrastructure in the United States, to include power production, generation and distribution systems. Yet thirteen years after this job description was enacted, our nation’s most critical infrastructure — and the systems that more than 300 Million Americans depend upon every day for basic activities — are still vulnerable to large scale blackouts.
"Anyone who understands how critical our power grid has become in modern America to feeding our families or keeping our children warm will understand why this act is so crucially important. The Critical Infrastructure Protection Act will enhance DHS threat assessments for geomagnetic disturbances and electromagnetic pulse blackouts which will enable practical steps to protect the vital electric grid that serves America and her critical financial, agricultural, medical and emergency response capabilities and many other critical systems."
“I am encouraged that the House of Representatives passed this legislation unanimously last Congress,” and he urged “both my House and Senate colleagues in this new Congress to ensure this critical measure makes it to the President’s desk” this year.
Wildfire disaster relief and prevention
Meanwhile, Reps. Jared Polis (D-Colo.) and Raul Ruiz (D-Calif.) announced the introduction of the Wildfire Prevention Act of 2015, which would update FEMA guidelines for releasing disaster relief funds to ensure that victims of wildfires have access to the same resources as victims of other naturaldisasters.
Under current law, victims of wildfires aren’t eligible for the “post-disaster” mitigation resources that victims of other natural disasters such as hurricanes and tornadoes are eligible for. Polis and Ruiz want to make these same resources available to mitigate the effects of wildfires, such as post-fire flooding and mudslides, and to prevent future fires. They said use of funds for these purposes has been shown to be particularly effective, as it’s estimated every dollar spent on mitigation saves four dollars in future disaster costs.
Under the bill, states, tribes and local communities would be eligible to receive mitigation assistance grants for up to 15 percent of the total cost of fire suppression efforts. This extra amount for mitigation is cost-shared on a 75 percent federal, 25 percent state and local basis.
The act is supported by International Association of Fire Chiefs (IAFC), International Association of Fire Fighters, National Association of Counties, and the National Fire Protection Association.
“As a Representative, nothing frustrates me more than when I tour the aftermath of a wildfire, see the ruins of houses in communities near Fort Collins and Boulder, and then find out that the federal government has refused to provide disaster relief because of a technicality,” Polis said, noting that, “This bill will ensure that those people or communities that have been devastated by wildfires will have access to the resources and relief that every other natural disaster victim can receive to rebuild their homes, towns and lives.”
“As the drought in California continues, our forestlands and surrounding communities are at an even greater risk of wildfire destruction,” Ruiz added. “This bipartisan, pragmatic bill takes critical steps to proactively provide firefighters with the resources necessary to protect communities in the aftermath of a wildfire, and help stop the next fire before it starts to save lives, property and resources.”
“I congratulate Representatives Ruiz, Polis and the bill’s other cosponsors for introducing this bipartisan legislation,” said Fire Chief G. Keith Bryant, IAFC president and chairman of the board. “This bill will help communities that recently had to deal with the tragedy of a wildland fire to mitigate the effects of flooding, mudslides and other disasters that could result after the fire. I urge Congress to move quickly to pass this legislation.”
“It’s not enough to help communities while a fire is raging — we must do more to support them as they work to prevent future fires from happening in the first place,” said Summit County Commissioner Dan Gibbs, a volunteer firefighter. “This common-sense measure would do exactly that by providing much-needed resources to communities doing the important work of fire mitigation.”