From USA Today (Bill Theobald) via the Fort Collins Coloradan:
The annual spending bill negotiated by congressional leaders is stuffed with millions in additional funding for Western needs — from fighting wildfires to fixing national parks and helping deal with the drought.
In addition, a companion bill would extend tax breaks for solar and wind power.
Both bills are expected to be approved by the House and Senate in the next few days.
The budget legislation would fund the government for the rest of the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30. It would reauthorize the popular Land and Water Conservation Fund for three years and appropriate $450 million for the fund to be spent through the Department of Interior and the Forest Service.
The fund has provided $17 billion through its 50-year lifetime to fund more than 40,000 local recreation projects and to buy about 5 million acres of public lands, mostly in the West…
Funding in the budget bill is $50 million more than President Obama requested, a 47 percent increase from last year. More than 50 percent of the money will go for local and state recreation projects.
Alan Rowsome of The Wilderness Society had said Congress would be snatching “defeat from the jaws of victory” if it failed to permanently reauthorize the fund and increase the amount that could be spent.
For wildfires, the legislation includes $4.2 billion for wildfire fighting and prevention programs within the Department of the Interior and the Forest Service. That’s $670 million more than last year and includes $1 billion in firefighting reserve funds.
This provision is sure to disappoint members of the House and Senate — mostly from the West — who have been pushing legislation to revise funding for fighting wildfires. Fighting the most severe fires, under these proposals, would be paid for like other natural disasters such as tornadoes and come from emergency funds.
That would eliminate the need during several recent severe fire seasons to transfer money into firefighting from other activities, including efforts to reduce the number and severity of fires. The bill includes $545 million for hazardous fuels reduction, an increase of $19 million from last year.
Other provisions of interest to the West in the budget legislation include:
National Park Service. The service gets $2.9 billion, up $237 million, including $94 million to reduce the massive maintenance backlog at the parks and to mark the service’s centennial anniversary in 2016. Drought relief. While no comprehensive drought package is included, $100 million is appropriated for the Bureau of Reclamation to address severe drought in the West. Tax breaks include five-year extensions of the production tax credit for wind energy and the investment tax credit for solar energy.
Sen. Barbara Boxer of California said the ITC would create about 61,000 jobs in 2017 and retain another 80,000 solar jobs. The American Wind Energy Association estimated extending the PTC would add more than 100,000 jobs in four years in the wind industry.
“I believe the extension of tax credits for solar and wind energy is a game changer,” Boxer said.