Padilla Wildfire and Flooding Provisions Included in Bipartisan National Defense Authorization Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. — Today, U.S. Senator Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) released the following statement after voting to pass the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2024, which included two bipartisan amendments he authored to expedite the transfer of critical firefighting aircraft to the State of California and to bolster West Coast Atmospheric River forecasting:

“The Senate passed a strong defense bill that protects our national interests at home and abroad, raises wages for our troops, puts us on track to outcompete China, and demonstrates our unwavering commitment to Ukraine.  

“I’m especially proud that this bill includes amendments I authored to expedite the transfer of aircraft to California that will help us fight wildfires and bolster our ability to more accurately predict the landfall and severity of deadly atmospheric rivers. As we prepare to face more extreme weather events in the future, our defense spending must include critical investments in domestic priorities – these amendments ensure that we’re doing just that.”

Expediting the transfer of the HC-130 Hercules firefighting aircraft has long been a priority for Padilla. The amendment addresses the ongoing delays in the transfer, modification, and delivery of seven Coast Guard HC-130H aircraft to the State of California for firefighting purposes, as required by the John S. McCain National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2019. After years of delays due to contracting issues, this amendment terminates the federal contract and immediately initiates the title transfer of all seven aircraft from the Coast Guard to CALFIRE. Padilla’s amendment relieves the Air Force and the federal government of the contractual requirement to complete the modifications, allowing the state to complete them instead. California Governor Gavin Newsom has already secured funding in the state budget to finish modifications of the aircraft, which will dramatically expedite the timeline for the planes to be operational and begin protecting California communities.

Padilla’s atmospheric river forecasting amendment is based on his Atmospheric Rivers Reconnaissance, Observation and Warning Act, which will improve the accuracy and timeliness of West Coast Atmospheric River (AR) forecasts by directing the Air Force and NOAA to provide the necessary aircraft, personnel, and equipment to meet AR mission requirements during the winter season in the West Coast. As the frequency and intensity of AR storms increase, which California saw firsthand this winter, AR reconnaissance flights are increasingly critical for more accurately anticipating the landfall and severity of ARs, enabling communities to better prepare for and mitigate damage from storm events while conserving water for future droughts. Improving the prediction and landfall of ARs is critical to enhancing public safety and supporting emergency services, water management, and flood control. Full text of the amendment is available here


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