A new Senate bill aims to codify wildfire mitigation recommendations introduced by the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission.

A new Senate bill aims to codify wildfire mitigation recommendations introduced by the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission. Tayfun Coskun / Anadolu / Getty Images

Senate bill aims to streamline how agencies respond to wildfires

Much like the workforce-focused wildfire bill introduced last week in the House, the EMBER Act draws its provisions from the recommendations of a recent bipartisan commission report.

A second bipartisan bill aiming to implement the recommendations of a bipartisan wildfire commission has been introduced this week, this time in the Senate.

Last week, House lawmakers introduced the Modernizing Wildfire Safety and Prevention Act, a measure aimed at implementing the workforce-related recommendations of the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission, which was established as part of the bipartisan infrastructure law. That bill in part would create a new academy to quickly train and certify “wildfire and beneficial fire leaders,” a new program to award grants to educational and vocational training institutions that conduct wildfire mitigation training and making various improvements to federal wildland firefighters’ benefits and work-life balance.

On Thursday, Sens. Mark Kelly, D-Ariz., and Mitt Romney, R-Utah, introduced the Enhancing Mitigation and Building Effective Resilience Act (S. 4628), or the EMBER Act. Likewise drawing from the wildfire commission’s September 2023 report, the bill focuses on wildfire prevention programmatic reforms.

The measure would allow the Federal Emergency Management Agency to reduce or waive cost-sharing requirements for state wildfire planning and recovery projects, creates incentives for repurposing waste from forest restoration work into sustainable fuels and other goods and direct investments to wood processing facilities in need of wildfire risk reduction.

It also expands targeted grazing, updates the policies governing post-fire recovery efforts — including debris removal and toxic drinking water — and expands wildfire training to local departments. And it calls on the Agriculture, Interior and Homeland Security departments to develop uniform datasets on wildfire hazards.

“Wildfires are a significant and growing threat to our communities, environment and economy,” Kelly said in a statement. “In places like Arizona where families face this threat every year, the federal government must step in to invest in mitigation and establish innovative solutions to reduce risks and help communities respond after major fires and associated events. The EMBER Act, which is based on recommendations from the commission Sen. Romney and I helped establish in 2021, is a direct response to these needs.”

“Utah averages 800 to 1,000 wildfires annually, making our state one of the most wildfire-prone states in the country,” Romney said. “With wildfires getting more widespread and destructive, what was once primarily an issue for western states has become a national priority . . . Effectively addressing the growing threat of wildfires across our country will require us to modernize our policies and focus on bolstering resilience and restoration efforts.”

The measure already has the support of local governments in the form of the National Coalition of Counties, as well as environmental groups devoted to wildfire mitigation.

“The Alliance for Wildfire Resilience is thrilled to see this important legislation developed from the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management report," said Alliance for Wildfire Resilience Director Annie Schmidt, in a statement. ”The EMBER Act will address some of the critical issues the commission identified, including the need to improve post-fire recovery and lower the barrier for partnership through improved flexibility for matching funds. This legislation is a huge step forward for communities preparing for and recovering from the impacts of wildfire.”