DRAPER, Utah — Backed by various fire personnel in Draper, Utah Sen. Mitt Romney (R) announced legislation Friday that would create a commission to devise new policies to battle wildfires in the country.
Acknowledging the 40,000 acres that have already burned in Utah this year, Romney said the Wildland Fire Mitigation & Management Commission Act is necessary due to the recent increase of massive wildfires around the U.S., and an old policy not up to the task of fighting them.
"We keep seeing bigger fires and conflagration that is daunting and dangerous," said Romney. "Lives have been lost, structures have been lost, businesses have gone out of business because of fires, and we keep doing things the way we've done them in the past without recognizing the world has changed."
The proposed commission would consist of 25 people, but only eight from the federal government. The remaining members of the commission would come from the private sector in local communities and states.
Romney said the proposal will be attached to the upcoming infrastructure bill that he believes will eventually be passed. The senator added that Utah Rep. John Curtis will propose the same legislation in the House.
"The fires are becoming bigger, the loss of life is more significant, and continuing to do the things the way we've done them in the past doesn't make a lot of sense," Romney said.
Tasked for a year, the commission will look at issues such as aircraft, deciding how many more are needed and where they should be located. Romney thinks a major problem with the current wildfire policy is that crews don't have access to enough planes, and the ones that are available are not located in states where the risk of fires is higher
"So if we have a major fire that breaks out; can't knock it down when it's 100 acres. We have to wait until the federal government jumps in later, and by that time it's thousands and thousands of acres," said Romney.
Romney also expressed frustration with the inability to give long-term contracts to loggers and sawmills to use the deadwood that amasses in forests, supplying even more fuel to wildfires that do break out.
When asked whether his legislation will be passed in a divided Congress, Romney said creating new wildfire policy is something needed for all.
"We've got people in the American West for who this is a real issue, and we saw some of the tragedies in California over the last couple of years, so whether you're Republican or a Democrat, this is an issue that we've got to tackle."