Romney's wildfire legislation unveiled as fire season is well underway

Gov. Spencer Cox and other officials gather to bring awareness to the potential of fires during a press conference at This Is The Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City on June 10.

Gov. Spencer Cox and other officials gather to bring awareness to the potential of fires during a press conference at This Is The Place Heritage Park in Salt Lake City on June 10. (Scott G Winterton, Deseret News)


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SALT LAKE CITY — More than two dozen recommendations in a congressionally established wildfire prevention and mitigation commission are part of legislation unveiled Thursday by Sen. Mitt Romney, R-Utah.

The EMBER Act, or Enhancing Mitigation and Building Effective Resilience Act, is derived from a September 2023 report which outlined the urgent need for an expanded workforce to mitigate wildland fires, the importance of beneficial fires — like prescribed and cultural burning — and the need for increased investment in proactive pre-fire and post-fire planning and mitigation.

Among areas of study undertaken by the commission were existing approaches to aviation fleet procurement and mobilization, focusing on a need to set aviation management on a new trajectory in the decades to come.

"Utah averages 800-1,000 wildfires annually — making our state one of the most wildfire-prone states in the country. With wildfires getting more widespread and destructive, what was once primarily an issue for Western states has become a national priority," Romney said. "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."

Among other things, the EMBER Act would:

  • Ease burdens placed on states and localities by allowing FEMA to reduce or waive matching or cost-sharing requirements for wildfire planning and recovery projects.
  • Provide incentives for repurposing waste derived from restoration activities and risk reduction into sustainable fuels and other commercialized goods
  • Expand targeted grazing by providing nonrenewable and temporary grazing permits and leases to reduce fine fuel loads.
  • Update policies and guidance for post-fire incident recovery, including debris removal, emergency protective measures, and toxicity of drinking water resulting from wildfires.

Romney has made wildfire mitigation and recovery a priority while in Congress. In October 2020, he first announced the Wildland Fire Mitigation and Management Commission Act, legislation that would establish a commission of federal and nonfederal stakeholders — including city and county level representation — to study and recommend fire prevention, mitigation, management, and rehabilitation policies for forests and grasslands.

He introduced the legislation during the next Congress —in June 2021— with Sen. Mark Kelly, D-Arizona, and Rep. John Curtis, R-Utah.

He also negotiated historic funding to address wildfire hazards, including $8.25 billion for a suite of programs aimed at reducing wildfire risks, detecting wildfires, instituting firefighter workforce reforms, and building more resilient infrastructure.

The introduction of the EMBER Act follows a Senate hearing in March this year on modernizing federal wildfire policies to help communities in Utah and across the country be better equipped to both mitigate and and recover from wildfires.

"There's a mistaken belief that wildfires are the inevitable result of climate change, and there's nothing we can do except clean up afterwards. The recommendations of the wildfire commission disprove that and show there are lots of actions the federal government can take to prevent catastrophic wildfires," said Utah Gov. Spencer Cox.

The governor added the recommendations include expedited permitting for active forest management, more "common sense" grazing policies, and forcing collaboration between the Department of Interior, USDA, and other federal agencies.

"Much of these policies should have happened long ago, but I'm grateful for Sen. Romney's good work to make them a reality," Cox said.

According to Utahfireinfo.gov, Utah has had 280 wildfires so far this season with 4,558 acres burned.

The website said 227 of those fires were human caused.

The EMBER Act was co-written by Kelly.

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Utah congressional delegationUtahPoliticsU.S.Salt Lake CountyEnvironment
Amy Joi O'Donoghue
Amy Joi O’Donoghue is a reporter for the Utah InDepth team at the Deseret News with decades of expertise in land and environmental issues.

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