Tester Urges Forest Service to Utilize Funding in his Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill to Protect Butte’s Municipal Watershed
Senator secured more than $800 million in Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act for programs to address this critical infrastructure issue
U.S. Senator Jon Tester today urged the Forest Service to take advantage of the resources he secured in his bipartisan Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act for a critical project in the Basin Creek Watershed in the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest that would protect the municipal watershed for Butte given the severe and growing wildfire threat each year.
The Basin Creek Watershed is surrounded by Forest Service land, and provides water to approximately 60 percent of Butte’s population. For nearly two decades, Forest Service has been approached and proposed fuels reduction projects to the basin, begun environmental analyses, and then abandoned their proposal. Tester’s bipartisan bill, recently signed into law, contains funding the agency can use for a project to mitigate risk from a fire to the water supply. Tester met recently with Butte-Silver Bow Chief Executive JP Gallagher, who highlighted the critical need to address the watershed and asked for encouragement to the Forest Service to tap the funding opportunity without delay.
“The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act recently signed into law offers some real opportunities to address this issue,” Tester wrote to U.S. Forest Service Chief Randy Moore. “I fought to secure $500 million for hazardous fuels reduction projects in national forests, $100 million for Forest Service to contract with crews to remove flammable vegetation to be used for biochar and innovative wood products, and $180 million for the Joint Chiefs Landscape Restoration Program to reduce wildfire risk and protect water quality in municipal watersheds… The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act was designed from the ground up for opportunities like this one: protecting water quality, supporting the economy of rural communities, and mitigate the growing threat of severe wildfire driven by our changing climate.”
Tester also encouraged the Forest Service to quickly put the $50 million for Forest Service staff training in the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to work. The Beaverhead-Deerlodge has been struggling under chronic understaffing for decades, since the merged forest was created. Reports indicate that Forest Service employs about 14,000 fewer forest management personnel than it did three decades ago.
Tester worked across the aisle for months to negotiate this agreement with a group of five Republicans, four Democrats, and the White House, and he was the only member of Montana’s congressional delegation to vote for it. Tester’s law is projected to create more than 800,000 American jobs and lower costs for businesses by making targeted investments that will strengthen our nation without raising taxes on working families. Tester was the only member of Montana’s congressional delegation to vote for the legislation.
As a lead author of the bill, Tester made sure that the legislation does not raise taxes. He secured significant wins for Montana in the legislation, including $2.82 billion for Montana’s roads, highways and bridges; up to $100 million for the Milk River Project and $1 billion to complete all authorized rural water projects through the Bureau of Reclamation; $42.45 billion for broadband deployment to low-connectivity areas across the country; and $3.37 billion to reduce wildfire risk nationwide. Tester also worked to ensure that all iron, steel, and construction materials used for these projects must be made in America.
Tester’s letter can be found HERE.
A list of the legislation’s provisions can be found below.
Fire & Forest Management
- Tester-Moran bill to extend the IRS tax filing deadlines in Fire Management Assistance Grants for areas after significant fires.
- $3.37 billion for reducing wildfire risk, including:
- $500 million for Forest Service Community Defense Grants to support community-led efforts to improve community wildfire readiness, planning actions, and removing vegetation.
- $500 million for prescribed fires to reduce fuel loads and large fire risk.
- $500 million to do mechanical thinning and timber harvest to promote fire-resilient stands.
- $500 million to develop fire control points, including through the creation of fuelbreaks.
- $200 million to remove flammable vegetation for the creation of biochar or innovative woodproducts, with a note for agencies to consider working with youth and conservation corps, and engage with Tribes and veterans.
- $200 million for post-fire restoration activities.
- $100 million for Interior and Forest Service to conduct staff training and planning work to support wildland fire and vegetation treatment operations.
- $100 million for Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program projects.
- $20 million for the Joint Fire Science program (which supports research at UM and MSU).
- Includes the bipartisan REPLANT Act freeing up additional Forest Service funding for reforestation activities, and provides $450 million to rehabilitate and restore burned areas.
Resiliency (Flood, Drought)
- $7 billion for Army Corps of Engineers infrastructure priorities to improve flood mitigation.
- $350 million of that for Army Corps CAP funding which includes Section 205 levee projects. Senator Tester secured a $100 million increase for the CAP program, and secured a provision to allow the Army Corps to waive cost-share requirements for economically-disadvantaged communities.
- $3.5 billion for FEMA Flood Mitigation Assistance program.
- $1 billion for the FEMA Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities (BRIC) Program. This is a pre-disaster mitigation program, supporting states, local communities, tribes and territories undertaking hazard mitigation projects to reduce the risks they face from disasters and natural hazards.
- $2.2 billion for the Aging Infrastructure Account, including to The Bureau of Reclamation for water infrastructure projects across the West that are in need of major upgrades or replacement.
- $500 million for the Western Area Power Administration’s power purchase and transmission activities.
- Approximately $2.82 billion for Montana highways.
- Montana will also receive approximately $225 million in additional funding for a new bridge initiative to replace and repair bridges in poor condition.
- Approximately $164 million for Montana over five years to bolster public transit infrastructure, a roughly 30 percent increase.
- The portion of bus funds set aside for rural areas was increased.
- Funds to address highway safety and motor carrier safety were significantly increased, enabling Montana to save lives and reduce injuries on our roads.
- Approximately $144 million for Montana airports.
- A portion of the Haulers of Agriculture and Livestock Safety (HAULS) Act of 2021, which cuts burdensome hours of service requirements that can prevent ag and livestock haulers from doing their jobs safely, and gives them the flexibility to ensure more of Montana’s world-class products can make it to market.
- Tester’s DRIVE Safe Act, which creates a pilot program that lifts federal regulations that prevent Montana truck drivers under 21 years of age from transporting goods across state lines and establishes a new training initiative for 18 to 20-year-old truck drivers.
- Tester’s Right Track Act and Blocked Railroad Crossing Bill, which improve safety at rural train crossings and addresses instances of blocked highway-railroad crossings across the U.S.
- $15 million to study Amtrak long-distance passenger rail travel. This includes funding and authorization to form working groups, like the Greater Northwest Passenger Rail Working Group, to study and advocate for increased access to long-distance passenger rail travel.
- $1 billion to complete all authorized rural water projects through the Bureau of Reclamation, including Fort Peck/Dry Prairie, Rocky Boys/North Central, and Musselshell-Judith rural water systems.
- Approximately $198 million for Rocky Boys/North Central.
- Approximately $56 million for Musselshell-Judith.
- Approximately $17 million for Fort Peck/Dry Prairie.
- Up to $100 million for rehabilitating the Milk River Project.
- $2.5 billion to complete all authorized Indian water rights settlements, including settlements for Montana Tribes.
- Clarifies that American Rescue Plan state and local fiscal recovery funds may be used towards the state or federal cost share to rehabilitate Bureau of Reclamation water infrastructure.
- $3.5 billion for Indian Health Service Sanitation Construction program, filling all outstanding needs in the program nationwide.
- This includes roughly $40 million in water, sewage, and sanitation projects for the Blackfeet Tribe.
- $11.2 billion in grants for states and Tribes to reclaim abandoned mine lands. Montana is expected to receive at least $20 million, over six times the state’s annual federal Abandoned Mine Land distribution.
- $42.45 billion grant program for broadband deployment to areas of the country lacking access to internet service. The program will be distributed in the following manner:
- $4.2 billion of which is set aside for high-cost, geographically-challenged areas that are especially difficult and expensive to deploy broadband infrastructure to.
- A minimum allocation of $100 million to each state distributed during the planning and proposal stage. Up to $5 million in funding to support state broadband office activities, including planning, coordination, and grant administration.
- Additional funding allocated to each state using a formula based on that state’s total unserved population.
- $2 billion for the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s (NTIA) Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, which will help Tribal entities with broadband deployment, digital inclusion, workforce development, telehealth, and distance learning.
- $2 billion to the U.S. Department of Agriculture programs, which provide loans and grants to fund broadband service deployment and maintenance in rural areas.
- $14.2 billion for the Affordable Connectivity Program, which builds off of the current Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBB) by expanding eligibility and including consumer protection guardrails to prevent upselling. As of September 27, 2021, 9,701 households in Montana have enrolled in this program to get help with their internet bills.
- Includes additional consumer protection provisions that safeguard against digital redlining and price-gouging.
- Senator Tester fought to make sure participating households can apply the benefit to any internet service plan of their choosing.
- The Telecommunications Skilled Workforce Development Act, which will help address the workforce needs of the telecommunications industry to ramp up the human resources necessary in order to deploy broadband infrastructure efficiently and effectively.
- $3.85 billion for Land Ports of Entry to modernize and secure the Northern and Southern border.