August 10, 2021

Wyden, Colleagues Urge Administration to Combat Jet Fuel Shortages Affecting Wildland Firefighting Amid Another Devastating Wildfire Season

Bipartisan group of Western senators press Biden administration to coordinate across federal agencies to address possible jet fuel shortages for wildland firefighting as destructive, deadly blazes hit the West

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Ron Wyden, D-Ore., led a bipartisan group of Western senators pressing the Biden administration to coordinate and develop a strategy to combat jet fuel shortages that undercut wildland firefighting as wildfires burn across the West.

U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley, D-Ore., Alex Padilla, D-Calif., Jim Risch, R-Idaho, Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., Mike Crapo, R-Idaho, Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Patty Murray, D-Wash., joined Wyden in sending the letter to Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg and Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin.

“As you are well aware, the 2020 wildfire season was one of the most destructive seasons on record; destroying thousands of homes, burning millions acres, and straining communities already battling a historic pandemic. In 2021, there are already over 108 large fires burning in 15 states and the need for an aerial response to fight these fires is a critical and much-needed tool. We are concerned that fuel shortages could lead to the grounding of federal, state, and contracted aircrafts and hurt the ability for initial fire attack and further devastate communities near the growing number of wildfires,” the senators wrote.

The senators requested a response no later than August 23 on the following questions related to the administration’s efforts on jet fuel shortage:  

  • What plans are currently in place to address fuel shortages for aerial wildfire efforts? 
  • How will your Departments coordinate a response if a fuel shortage occurs while multiple wildfires are burning across multiple states? 
  • Are there enough available personnel to transport fuel to needed locations? If not, how will you increase qualified personnel?
  • What are the steps to expedite the ability for non-federal entities to purchase jet fuel to support aerial firefighting? 
  • What steps do you take in the contracting process to ensure that contractors have access to an adequate and reliable supply of fuel?

“The importance of a strategic and integrated approach to tackle wildfire is essential, and we urge your continued partnerships and coordination with state and local firefighting response units. We also urge strong coordination with the White House for the duration of the wildfire season to ensure prompt access to the needed resources when they are available. We stand ready to support wildfire prevention, response, and recovery for the citizens across the West,” the senators concluded.

After last year’s devastating wildfire season, Wyden secured a response plan from the Biden administration for the 2021 wildfire season. Wyden has also pressed the FEMA director on the urgent need to get state and local officials the resources they need in advance of the upcoming wildfire season.

Wyden has introduced several pieces of legislation to prevent severe wildfire risks, including his legislation to establish a 21st Century Civilian Climate Corp to create a workforce to restore our public lands and bolster wildfire prevention and preparedness, an initiative that will be included in the upcoming budget reconciliation bill. Wyden has also reintroduced his National Prescribed Fire Act to support pre-fire season controlled burns as an essential, science-based strategy for reducing hazardous fuels to mitigate the worst effects of severe wildfire. Wyden’s Disaster Safe Power Grid Act was also included in the bipartisan infrastructure bill and will ensure that power companies reduce the risks of wildland fires through power system upgrades, fire and disaster safety equipment installation and proper vegetation management.

A copy of the letter is here.