Thursday September 17th, 2020

Cortez Masto: Fires in West Show Urgency of Climate Crisis

CCM Wildfires Floor

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Catherine Cortez Masto (D-Nev.) spoke on the Senate floor today regarding the devastating wildfires and rangeland fires across Nevada and the West. In addition, she called for more action to prevent, manage, and rehabilitate landscapes affected by fire, including bipartisan action to address the climate crisis.


In 2019, Senator Cortez Masto hosted Nevada’s first-ever wildfire summit, to bring together local, state, and national leaders to find new ways to coordinate and collaborate in response to wildfires and rangeland fires. This June, she hosted a virtual wildfire briefing with the same aim. She has introduced, along with Senator Mitt Romney (R-Utah), legislation that would study drone interference with efforts to fight wildfires. She has also worked to ensure that Nevada gets adequate federal funding to fight wild- and rangeland fires, including by helping to establish a federal contingency fund to speed disaster recovery, aid fire prevention, and implement the “fire-borrowing” fix.

Senator Cortez Masto was a member of the Senate Democrats’ Special Committee on the Climate Crisis. She has consistently fought to promote Nevada’s clean energy sector, including by introducing bills to extend investment tax credits for renewables and by promoting electric vehicles and smart transportation as part of her Innovation State Initiative.            

Senator Cortez Masto’s remarks are available in VIDEO FORMAT. Below are her remarks as delivered:

I rise today to talk about what we’re seeing in this country in the West with the horrific wildfires that are happening right now. So many of my colleagues have been speaking out, and rightfully so.  

My heart, along with all of theirs, goes out to everyone who’s been affected by the fires raging across the West, and most of all to those who’ve lost members of their families or their homes.

You know, I’m thinking of the hundreds of thousands of people in Oregon under evacuation orders. Or those brave firefighters in California, who are battling flames in the middle of a pandemic. Of Nevadans whose skies are blanketed with hazardous smoke. Everyone in the West who is pooling all their efforts and resources to support one another, from Washington to Oregon to California to Nevada—everywhere that we have seen.

I also want to honor the efforts of two courageous pilots who died in a crash over Caliente, Nevada in July while dropping fire retardant on the Bishop Fire. David Blake Haynes and Scott Thomas lost their lives while protecting the people of Nevada, and I join all Nevadans in sharing my condolences with their families.

Americans are up against the brutal reality of the climate crisis.

Science tells us that that climate change is making the West hotter and drier, contributing to wildfires. Scientists have been sending a consistent message about climate change for the past thirty years.

And in the entire Western United States, we have seen just some of the dire effects scientists have predicted.

That’s why we need federal action to slow the very clear effects of climate change.

We’ve seen those effects in my home state of Nevada, where this year alone almost a quarter million acres have burned so far.

Since I’ve been in the Senate, over two and a half million acres in Nevada have burned in tragedies like the Poeville Fire, the South Sugarloaf Fire, the Range 2 Fire, and the Martin Fire, which was the state’s largest in our history.

That’s why the entire Nevada delegation has worked so hard to get Nevada the resources it needs to prepare for these fires, combat them when they occur, and rebuild afterwards.

We’ve helped get funds to the University of Nevada, Reno, for its ALERTWildfire Program, which uses state-of-the-art cameras to monitor fires.

We’ve requested that the Nevada Air National Guard get the tools it needs to help combat these fires, including C-130J aircraft that could fight fires all over the West. And yet, inexplicably this request was turned down earlier this year.

And along with my colleagues in the Senate, we’ve worked to pass a bill to create a permanent Forest Service contingency account, so that federal agencies aren’t left empty-handed when they need the money the most.

Last summer, I convened the first-of-its-kind wildfire summit in Nevada. I was honored to join our firefighters, our ranchers, our conservationists, our scientists, power companies, and representatives of government agencies in thinking through new ways to coordinate and collaborate.

There’s so much we can do when we work together: from developing innovative digital platforms to monitor fire, to funding research into restoring native plants, to helping neighborhoods plan for and adapt to fire seasons. We need to make our farms and landscapes more resilient. We to need improve the health and well-being of those who live in our cities and rural areas alike.

Because the truth is that it’s not getting cooler. Anyone in Los Angeles, which saw temperatures of 120 degrees Fahrenheit this month, or in Las Vegas, which hit 113 in July, can tell you that.

Taking climate seriously shouldn’t be a partisan issue. This is about safeguarding property, protecting local economies and saving lives. Lives of first responders, who have too much to do with too few resources. Lives of civilians throughout Nevada and the West, frightened by what they are seeing literally in their backyards. 

So I plan to listen to what the scientists are telling us.

I’m listening to Nevadans in places like Winnemucca and Elko, where ranchers and local officials have lived through these fires.

I’m listening to Nevada’s tribal leaders, whose people have been stewards of the land for millennia, and to other communities of color, who are among the hardest hit when disaster strikes.

And yes, I’m listening to my colleagues, who have devastating stories of what’s happening to their own constituents in their states right now.

The climate crisis is all around us, from the wildfires we’re seeing in the West, to the hurricanes that we’re seeing right now in the South. It is time for us to take bipartisan action, address the climate crisis, and make sure we are doing what we do best: funding short-term and long-term policies and goals to address these issues. And I look forward to working with my colleagues around this space. 




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