Budgets are a Statement of Values: How does the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act Value Wildfire Mitigation and Resilience? 

On August 10th, the Senate passed, by a vote of 69-30,theInfrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).  The infrastructure package was the product of President Biden’s Bipartisan Infrastructure Framework and led by a bipartisan group of 22 Senators (National Governors Association).  

The total cost of the bill is $1.2 trillion with $548 billion in new spending. The bill reauthorizes the traditional infrastructure programs for five years, and provides new spending by sector in the amounts below: 

  • Transportation – $284 billion 
  • Power Infrastructure – $73 billion 
  • Broadband – $65 billion 
  • Water Infrastructure – $55 billion 
  • Resiliency and Cybersecurity – $50 billion 
  • Environmental Remediation – $21 billion 

What After the Fire is Watching

This IIJA package is financed through a combination of reallocating unspent COVID-19 relief funds, targeted corporate user fees, and other measures (National Governors Association) 

But what After the Fire is focusing on is what has been prioritized and allocated for wildfire. Senator Dianne Feinstein posted the following budget breakdown as it relates to wildfire: 

  • Federal firefighter salaries:$600 million to increase salaries for firefighters within the Interior Department and Agriculture Department by up to $20,000 per year. The bill also converts at least 1,000 seasonal firefighters to permanent, year-round positions.  
  • Wildfire mitigation programs: $3.3 billion for wildfire risk reduction efforts including hazardous fuels reduction, controlled burns, community wildfire defense grants, collaborative landscape forest restoration projects and funding for firefighting resources. This total includes the $600 million to boost federal firefighter salaries, as detailed above.  
  • Undergrounding power lines:$5 billion for utilities and grid operators to bury power lines and install fire-resistant technologies to reduce wildfires and expand the use of electricity microgrids to reduce disturbances caused by voluntary power shutoffs.  
  • Forest management:$2 billion for the Interior Department and U.S. Forest Service to carry out ecological restoration projects on public and private lands in order to remove fire fuel.  
  • Fireproofing homes:$3.5 billion for the weatherization assistance program to help homeowners make energy-efficient improvements to their homes that will help fireproof dwellings. 

Its a start

So, what does this budget say about the value of wildfire mitigation and resilience? We know that, given the extreme severity of the fires burning all over the American West right now, we need even more resources. However, we are pleased to see the federal government investing in the mitigation of this perpetual crisis in a more significant way than ever before. In short: it’s a start.  

What happens now? The IIJA moves to the House where Speaker Pelosi has committed to bring it up along with reconciliation instructions.