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Monday, July 21, 2014

EPA that ends well

by Kerry Halladay, Associate Editor

— Public response to EPA decision saves rural fire trucks

It’s not often that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reverses a decision following public outcry. Not often, but not unheard of. In this case, it makes for very good news.

The EPA and the Department of Defense (DoD) announced mid- June that a long-running program, which made surplus military vehicles available to civilian organizations such as voluntary rural fire fighters, would end. The result would have cut off the availability of low- or no-cost equipment upon which rural and voluntary fire agencies depend. But, as quickly as it came, the decision was rescinded last week.

The decision to end the program was supposedly based on a decades-old agreement between the EPA and the DoD. According to documents from the Oregon Department of Forestry’s Rangeland Protection program, the old agreement was between EPA and DoD’s Army Tank and Automotive Command regarding emission standards that had not been enforced for up to a couple decades.

“We are not clear as to why it is being enforced now, but we are seeing the full impact on whatever that agreement includes,” wrote Paul Koreiva, Program Manager for the Oregon Department of Forestry’s Federal Excess Personal Property Program/ Fire Fighter Property Program (FEPP/FFP) following the decision.

The FEPP/FFP programs allow excess equipment like military trucks to be retrofitted for fire-fighting use and loaned out or given to smaller fire-fighting groups across the states. The decision would have cut off this vital resource to voluntary rangeland fire protection associations that dot western states. Rural fire agencies and voluntary programs often have little to no budget and depend on such programs for critical equipment.

According to an informational document put out by the National Association of State Foresters (NASF) following the decision, FEPP/ FPP programs are more than essential to western states’ defense against fire. The document noted that $150 million worth of excess equipment was delivered to state and local fire-fighting groups annually between 2008-2012. There would be no way for such groups to purchase such high-valued equipment at market value.

The NASF document also pointed out the costs of the decision would outweigh the benefits.

“State foresters understand the decision is premised on emissions regulations and an agreement between DoD and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency which seeks to reduce emissions, but we fear that any reduction in emissions realized by halting further transfers to states will be dwarfed by increased wildfire emissions if state and local fire departments are starved of the resources they need to adequately respond to and suppress wildfires.”

The group also noted 83 percent of all wildfires addressed up to that point this year had been responded to by state or local fire-fighting groups. Additionally, local fire-fighting groups were the first on the scene at a fire over 90 percent of the time. Both details are testaments to the value of rural and voluntary fire-fighting groups.

“The USDA Forest Service has appealed this decision as it directly affects Rural Fire Protection in the U.S.,” read a late-June email sent from RD Buell of Oregon’s Walker Range Forest Protective Association to other Oregon fire associations and shared with WLJ.

“Many states including Oregon rely on this type of equipment for rural fire protection. If you read closely, the military will be required to ‘destroy’ these vehicles. Of those of you that utilize these vehicles in the Rangeland Fire Protection program know how much life is left in these vehicles, some of the vehicles we receive in the program are like new.”

And that appeal of the decision worked, much to the relief of many.

“There was quite an outcry from the National Association of State Foresters,” explained Gordon Foster, Rangeland Fire Protection Coordinator of the Oregon Department of Forestry in a brief interview. “Everybody from the ranchers on up through fire districts through boards of directors sent letters to their congressmen and in one week’s time, that decision was turned around.”

Foster said the EPA has decided to exempt surplus military vehicles used for law enforcement and firefighting purposes under what he described as the “national public security clause” in the emissions agreement.

“It’s a very good news story. I told some folks that this is real democracy at work. If only all issues were that easy to solve.” — Kerry Halladay, WLJ Editor

 
 


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