This vote was on an amendment offered by Rep. Goodlatte (R-VA) to the Federal Land Assistance Management and Enhancement (“FLAME”) Act. The FLAME Act established a dedicated fund for catastrophic, emergency wild land fire suppression activities, separate from other appropriated fire-fighting funding. This new fund was designed to be available when other appropriated funds run out, saving federal agencies from having to dip into non fire-related programs.
The Goodlatte amendment was designed to give the Forest Service permanent authority to contract with states to deal with fires that start on federal land and spread to state and private forest land and vice versa. Goodlatte noted that: “Fires know no boundaries . . . My amendment provides a more comprehensive approach to preventing dangerous fires and fighting them when they happen.” He said it would give the Forest Service “an additional tool to address these problems that will ultimately be a cost-saving measure.” Goodlatte also claimed it would create “a new contracting tool for the Forest Service to partner with states.” He noted that his amendment was supported by the Society of American Foresters, the Western Council of State Foresters, and the Forest Foundation.
Rep. Rahall (D-WV), who was leading the effort on behalf of the FLAME Act, opposed the amendment. Rahall said his opposition was not to the kind of federal-state agreements the amendment envisioned, but “rather the way the amendment would allow these types of projects to proceed . . . .” He argued that the amendment “. . . could undermine current protections in the law that protect taxpayer interests, forest worker rights and which ensure adequate environmental review for activities occurring on forest lands . . . .” Rahall claimed: “The transfer of contracting authority from the federal government to the states (could have adverse impacts) on federal worker-protection laws (since many of) . . . These federal labor standards do not apply to contracts issued by individual states”. He noted that the amendment was opposed by the AFL-CIO Building and Construction Trades and by the Carpenters' Union.
The amendment was defeated by a vote of 161-272. One hundred and fifty-three Republicans and eight Democrats voted “aye”. Two hundred and forty Democrats and thirty-two Republicans voted nay. As a result, language was not added to the FLAME Act to give the Forest Service the authority to contract with states to deal with fires that spread from, or to, federal land.