Schrader, LaMalfa Introduce Legislation to Protect Electrical Infrastructure, Prevent Forest Fires

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Washington, D.C., April 4, 2017 | Carlee Griffeth (202-225-5711) | comments

Today, Congressmen Doug LaMalfa (R-CA) and Kurt Schrader (D-OR) introduced H.R. 1873, the Electric Reliability and Forest Protection Act, which allows utility companies to more efficiently remove hazardous trees and other vegetation near a transmission lines to reduce the risk of wildfires.

LaMalfa said: “This bipartisan legislation is beneficial for everyone involved, decreasing the risk of blackouts, lowering costs for utilities and the Forest Service, and preventing forest fires. A single tree falling on a transmission line can cause blackouts for thousands of homes and spark a fire that devastates a National Forest, but existing red tape can prevent removal of dangerous trees for months. Under this legislation, rural electric co-ops, utilities, and municipal power providers will be able to proactively remove hazardous trees before they become problems, not after they’ve caused a fire. I’m pleased to work with Rep. Schrader and our bipartisan coalition to ensure that the federal government works with electric providers to keep the lights on, protect rural communities, and keep our National Forests safe.”

Rep. Schrader said: “Properly maintained rights-of-way is essential for public safety and enhancing the reliability of our electrical grid. The LaMalfa-Schrader bill is a no-brainer and this should not be controversial. Preventing forest fires and maintaining a reliable electrical grid should be a priority for everybody. Our utilities need a streamlined and consistent process for being able to get out on the ground and remove hazardous vegetation before it can cause a wildfire. This is exactly what our bill does. State and federal laws require routine maintenance on federal lands, but bureaucratic red tape from federal agencies has been stalling that maintenance, slowing down our electrical utilities’ ability to safely supply dependable electricity. As long as there is a management plan in place that has been agreed to, there should be no need to revisit every project when the project conforms with the management plan. Doing so is a waste of money and time, and is extremely dangerous to our grid's reliability. Our bill will significantly improve the process by providing clearer, more commonsense regulations that will allow for regular maintenance, permitting utilities to provide consistent electricity to all of our communities.”

Under current law it can take months for utilities to receive Forest Service approval to remove hazardous trees from transmission lines right of ways, even if trees are already in contact with electric transmission lines. H.R. 1873 provides utilities with the ability to rapidly remove hazardous trees by receiving pre-approval from the Forest Service to manage transmission line right of ways and remove trees that are or could become hazards. Furthermore, if a utility requests authorization to remove a tree and is denied by the Forest Service, the Forest Service is responsible for any firefighting costs that result from the failure to remove the tree.

Jim Matheson, CEO of the National Rural Electric Cooperative Association, said: "This legislation will enhance certainty for electric cooperatives as they manage power line rights-of-way corridors, which is an important factor for ensuring the reliability of electricity that empowers millions of American families and businesses. We appreciate the leadership of Congressmen LaMalfa and Schrader on this issue.”

Melissa Lavinson, PG&E Chief Sustainability Officer and Vice President of Federal Affairs and Policy, said: “PG&E congratulates Congressmen LaMalfa and Schrader for introducing bipartisan legislation to enhance electric reliability and protect our federal lands and surrounding communities. The ‘Electricity Reliability and Forest Protection Act’ facilitates efforts by energy providers to conduct timely and responsible routine maintenance on federal lands, which is critical to PG&E’s efforts to provide safe, affordable, reliable and clean energy to 16 million people throughout northern and Central California.  We look forward to sharing our perspectives with Congress as this measure advances through the legislative process.”

In a letter of support, Thomas Kuhn, President of Edison Electric Institute, said: “Your bill, like similar legislation that passed the House in 2016, would provide a framework to promote federal land management agency consistency, accountability, and timely decision-making as it relates to protecting power lines on federal lands and reducing the risk of wildfires.”

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