Padilla, Feinstein, and Western Senators Urge Administration to Combat Jet Fuel Shortages Affecting Wildland Firefighting Amid Another Devastating Wildfire Season

Bipartisan group of senators urge Biden administration to coordinate across federal agencies to address shortages

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Alex Padilla and Dianne Feinstein (both D-Calif.) joined a bipartisan group of Western senators, led by Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), in urging the Biden administration to coordinate and develop a strategy to combat jet fuel shortages that undercut wildland firefighting as wildfires burn across California and the West. This effort comes as the Dixie Fire has become the largest single wildfire in California history and drought conditions increase the likelihood of more devastating fires this year. Aerial resources are the most effective tool firefighters have against the megafires that have plagued California.

In addition to Padilla, Feinstein, and Wyden, U.S. Sens. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Jim Risch (R-Idaho), Mike Crapo (R-Idaho), Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), and Patty Murray (D-Wash.) joined 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.

A copy of the letter is here.

Padilla has been active in introducing bills and securing amendments to support wildfire mitigation. Earlier this year, Padilla, Feinstein, Wyden introduced the Wildfire Emergency Act, to help reduce catastrophic wildfires in the West. The Wildfire Emergency Act supports forest restoration projects, critical infrastructure to create energy flexibility, and establishes Prescribed Fire Centers to coordinate research and training of foresters and forest managers in western states.

In the bipartisan Surface Transportation Reauthorization Act of 2021, Padilla secured a provision that will help make transportation infrastructure more resilient to wildfires. Padilla’s amendment ensures that vegetation management along roadways is eligible for transportation resiliency funding available through the bill. This is a critical activity to help prevent wildfires in California.

In July, Padilla questioned Secretary of Homeland Security Alejandro Mayorkas during a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing to ensure the Department of Homeland Security is proactively soliciting resources to combat the increasingly devastating and deadly fire seasons in California due to the effects of climate change. Padilla, Feinstein, Merkley, and Wyden have also pressed President Biden to provide additional relief to states struggling with the impact of extreme drought and wildfires.