Thompson Manages Floor for Bill to Speed Delivery of Firefighting Tanker Planes for U.S. Forest Service

June 11, 2012

On Friday, I managed floor debate for consideration of S. 3261, legislation to allow the U.S. Forest Service to expedite contracts for new tanker aircraft to fight forest fires. Consideration of the bill came in response to the U.S. Forest Service's request to modernize its aging fleet of tanker planes used to battle wildfires. On June 3, 2012, a firefighting tanker crashed in Utah, killing two pilots. Following a separate tanker's emergency landing in Nevada that same day, the Forest Service had only 11 planes for firefighting operations, leaving only nine in operation.  S. 3261 would allow the Forest Service to avoid a 30-day waiting period required by current law before entering into contracts for seven modern tankers to replace the equipment.  The measure has now passed both chambers and is scheduled to be signed into law by President Obama.  

The House Agriculture Committee, on which I serve as the Chairman of the Subcommittee on Conservation, Energy & Forestry, has jurisdiction over the Forest Service.  Below you can view a video and the full text of my remarks, which were submitted to the Congressional Record.

From the Congressional Record:

Mr. THOMPSON of Pennsylvania. Madam Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that the Committee on Agriculture be discharged from further consideration of the bill (S. 3261) to allow the chief of the forest service to award certain contracts for large air tankers, and ask for its immediate consideration in the House.

The Clerk read the title of the bill.

S. 3261

Thompson inserted the following statement into the congressional record:

Mr. THOMPSON of Pennsylvania. Madam Speaker, I rise in support of S. 3261. This bill waives the congressionally mandated 30-day notification period before the Forest Service can issue new contracts for aircraft for its air tanker fleet.

There is some urgency to this bill given the catastrophic wildfires that are afflicting the western United States. The west is currently experiencing a drought that has drastically increased the hazards of wildfire this year. A wildfire in New Mexico has already burned more than 400 square miles and is still raging.

The Forest Service must modernize its fleet of air tankers and must do so immediately. The fleet is using several tankers that have been in service for 50 years or longer. The agency intends to issue four contracts for seven new tankers, and this bill will allow the agency to move forward more quickly during this critical time.

Two tankers were lost this past weekend. Only nine tankers remain to fight fires at this time, which is inadequate to deal with wildfire threats our western communities face.

A tanker was forced to make a crash landing in Nevada this weekend when its landing gear failed.

Sadly, we learned the danger of flying these missions when a Forest Service tanker crashed in southern Utah this past weekend, killing both pilots.

I want to take a moment to recognize the pilots of these planes, Todd Neal Tompkins and Ronnie Edwin Chambless, both of Boise, Idaho. I hope their families know that we appreciate their service and sacrifice in making our communities safer.

This is a simple step Congress can take to assist the Forest Service during this critical period.

The bill was read the third time, and passed, and a motion to reconsider was laid on the table.

Mr. THOMPSON of Pennsylvania. Madam Speaker, I ask unanimous consent that all Members may have 5 legislative days in which to revise and extend their remarks on the bill just considered.