NACo has called on conferees deliberating comprehensive energy legislation to support several key county issues and include them in their final legislation. In a letter to Senate and House energy, commerce and natural resources leadership, NACo Executive Director Matt Chase encouraged the members of the conference committee to work together to address the following critical issues for the nation’s county governments.
The following text offers key points from the letter.
Secure Rural Schools
- The SRS program expired on Sept. 30, 2015 and has yet to be reauthorized. If the Secure Rural Schools program is not reauthorized, forest counties and schools will not receive another SRS payment.
- The SRS program provides crucial support to local schools, transportation infrastructure, law enforcement and other county services in more than 720 counties and 4,000 school districts nationwide, impacting 9 million students across 41 states.
- Counties urge Congress to provide local governments with the budgetary certainty they need to continue providing critical services to our shared constituents. We encourage you to work swiftly to reauthorize the SRS program for FY16 and into the future.
Provide Greater Flexibility for Counties Under Title III of SRS
- Counties encourage Congress to provide additional flexibility in the utilization of funds under Title III of the SRS.
- Title III of SRS provides critical resources to counties to support search and rescue, fire protection and other emergency services performed by the county on federal land.
- Congress intended SRS Title III funds to support not just actual search and rescue activities but also the significant costs to train and equip the emergency services personnel who provide these costly services on federal public lands.
Support Stewardship Revenue-sharing with Counties
- Stewardship contracting authority allows the Forest Service to implement forest management projects supported by revenues generated through the sale of forest products yielded by the management project.
- Counties support stewardship contracting as one of the many tools at land managers’ disposal to responsibly manage our federal lands. However, since its inception, revenues generated through stewardship contracting have been exempt from revenue sharing with counties.
- Sharing revenues from stewardship contracting will provide much needed support for forest counties, their roads, schools and other critical services to help offset the presence of non-taxable federal lands within their jurisdictions.
Enact Comprehensive Forest Management Legislation
- Congress must work to reverse the decline in our federal forests by enacting meaningful forest management reforms that improve forest health and restore forest production.
- Counties believe that active management of federal lands and forests must be done in a sustainable manner to ensure the health of our federal lands for generations to come and we are intergovernmental partners with the federal government in achieving these goals.
- The health of our federal forests has a direct effect on public health, safety and economic wellbeing of counties across the United States. Not only do unhealthy forests increase community wildfire risk, they can also negatively impact community access to clean water and air, threaten wildlife habitats and reduce county opportunities for forest-related tourism and job creation.
- Counties encourage Congress to enact a permanent legislative solution to end the budgeting practice commonly known as “fire borrowing,” which draws down funds from non-firefighting accounts to pay for federal firefighting needs.
- The drawdown of funds through fire borrowing negatively impacts the ability of the federal government to undertake important forest-health and fire-prevention activities and places the safety of forest communities at risk.
- We urge Congress to enact a legislative fix to the method of funding wildfire suppression on national forests and grasslands by providing access to funding outside of the statutory discretionary limits for emergency purposes.
Enact the Public Lands Renewable Energy Development Act (PLREDA)
- The reforms included in PLREDA will support a timelier review of renewable energy project applications, expedite project development and extend royalties and lease income from solar and wind projects developed on federal lands to their home counties.
- As renewable energy resources are developed, counties will be called upon to provide essential infrastructure and county services to support energy facilities.
- PLREDA’s balanced approach to renewable energy development is what has garnered it broad stakeholder support from counties, governors, the energy industry, sportsmen and environmental groups as well as eight bipartisan Senate co-sponsors and 69 bipartisan House co-sponsors.
- n order to ensure PLREDA’s balanced approach is maintained, counties urge Congress to adopt the full scope of PLREDA as a part of the conference agreement.
Extend Brownfields Cleanup
- The Brownfields Program helps local communities redevelop and repurpose contaminated sites nationwide.
- Since its creation, the EPA Brownfields Program has provided crucial assistance to local governments for the reuse of hazardous, polluted and underutilized properties.
- Each federal dollar that has been invested since the program was established ($22 billion) has leveraged approximately $18 in other investments, close to $400 billion in total.
- Reauthorization of the program will allow local governments and communities to undertake more brownfields cleanup programs nationally.