Padilla Secures California Priorities on Wildfire and Catastrophe Preparedness in Defense Legislation

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, the Senate passed the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023 (NDAA), which includes several provisions authored by U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.). This defense policy bill incorporates Padilla’s legislation to help California better prepare for and recover from natural, environmental, and global disasters. The NDAA now heads to President Biden’s desk to be signed into law.

Padilla’s Emergency Aircraft Act would remove the current cap on how many excess planes the Department of Defense (DoD) can transfer to other federal agencies and allow the transfer of aircraft to states for emergency response and wildfire suppression purposes.

The inclusion of the Global Catastrophic Risk Mitigation Act would improve our nation’s federal preparedness and response plans to global catastrophic and existential threats, including severe global pandemics, nuclear war, asteroid and comet impacts, super volcanoes, sudden and severe changes to the climate, and cyberattacks.

“California is on the frontlines of increasingly frequent natural disasters and catastrophic events,” said Senator Padilla. “As we continue to prepare our state to meet the challenges of future disasters, the inclusion of my amendments in this year’s NDAA are a big victory for California and states across the west, and I will continue to ensure that the full breadth of the federal government’s resources are brought to bear for our state.”

Increase Aircraft for Fighting Wildfires

The Emergency Aircraft Act would remove the arbitrary cap (currently 7) on how many excess aircraft DoD can transfer to federal agencies for wildfire suppression efforts, allow states to receive excess DoD aircraft, and expand the uses for these transferred aircraft from just “wildfire suppression purposes” to include purposes of “wildfire suppression, search and rescue, or emergency operations pertaining to wildfires.” It would also mandate an annual report from DoD to the House and Senate Armed Services Committees on aircraft transferred during the previous fiscal year.

During a meeting at the White House with top DoD and Biden Administration officials, Senator Padilla and California Governor Gavin Newsom raised the need to enact legislation to facilitate the transfer of aircraft to states, like California. The inclusion of this amendment is the result of months of hard work since that meeting.

Global Catastrophic Risk Mitigation Act 

The Global Catastrophic Risk Mitigation Act, authored by Senator Gary Peters (D-Mich.), includes Senator Padilla’s and Cornyn’s KESSLER Act, which was introduced earlier this year. The KESSLER Act’s provisions would require the President to develop a national strategy to provide basic human needs and ensure the health, safety, and general welfare of American citizens in the case of a catastrophic event in coordination with our allies, states, local governments, Tribes, private sector stakeholders, and nonprofit organizations. It would also require a plan to implement, operationalize, and inform the public of the new strategy, including a DHS-led national exercise to test the strategy.

California has strived in recent years to become a leader in preparing for catastrophes that would disproportionately impact California. Heeding former Governor Brown’s all-encompassing warning that “what’s out there is darkness, uncertainty, decline, and recession,” Senator Padilla is working to ensure the federal government is undertaking an all-of-government approach to catastrophic risk preparedness.

Padilla also helped secure the inclusion of the following provisions to this year’s NDAA:

  • Continued National Guard support for the FireGuard Program

The NDAA extends the FireGuard Programs through September 2029, which uses military satellites to detect wildfires, notify authorities, and helps complete the picture for firefighting partners on the ground.

  • Support for research and development of Bio-industrial Manufacturing

The NDAA includes language directing the Secretary of Defense to support the development of a network of bio-industrial manufacturing facilities to conduct research and development to improve the ability of the industrial base to assess, validate, and scale new, innovative bio-industrial manufacturing processes for the production of chemicals, materials, and other products necessary to support national security or secure fragile supply chains.

  • Assessment and strategy relating to hypersonic testing capacity

The NDAA includes language to require the Defense Department to develop a strategy to assess the capacity to test, evaluate, and qualify hypersonic capabilities and related technologies.

  • Funding for Readiness and Environmental Protection Initiative (REPI)

The NDAA includes additional funding to prevent wildlife encroachment and reduce the threats to military installations, ensuring the continued viability of key installations while also conserving important habitats.

Full text of the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023 is available here.