Energy and Commerce Approves Bill to Boost Tourism and Job Creation

WASHINGTON, DC – The House Committee on Energy and Commerce today approved H.R. 4450, the Travel Promotion, Enhancement, and Modernization Act, by voice vote. The bipartisan bill, introduced by Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL) and Peter Welch (D-VT), reauthorizes funding for Brand USA, a public-private partnership originally created by the Travel Promotion Act of 2009 that helps market U.S. destinations to international travelers at no cost to taxpayers. Bilirakis’ bill also includes important reforms to increase transparency and accountability in the program.

“Passage of H.R. 4450 will be good for the economy. It’s a jobs bill,” said Bilirakis. “A recent analysis performed by the independent firm Oxford Economics estimated that, in fiscal year 2013, Brand USA generated 1.1 million additional international visitors who spent an estimated $3.4 billion dollars, generating economic revenue and supporting job creation in communities across America.”

Commerce, Manufacturing and Trade Subcommittee Chairman Lee Terry (R-NE) said, “I thank Congressman Bilirakis for his hard work not only in crafting a smart bill with appropriate reforms, but also gaining bipartisan support. Now, Florida and California are known worldwide for tourist attractions like Disneyland, Hollywood, and Disney World. But the travel industry is a huge economic driver across the rest of the nation as well. Without using taxpayer dollars, the program greatly increases tourism and adds jobs across the nation.”

Full committee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI) added, “This bill would reauthorize funding for Brand USA and increase accountability and transparency of the program. Just last week I held a roundtable in my district to discuss the tremendous benefits – thousands of local jobs and roughly a billion dollars contributed to the economy annually in Southwest Michigan alone – that come from tourism. Extending Brand USA will help market the United States as a world-class destination, and continue to attract visitors and economic growth to local communities.”

Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act Gets Unanimous Committee Approval

In what is a good sign for the future of the Federal Lands Recreation Enhancement Act reauthorization, H.R. 5204 was marked-up today in the House Committee on Natural Resources by unanimous consent, meaning there were no objections to the bill from anyone on the committee. The bill had complete bipartisan support. It now heads to the House floor, possibly as part of a package of non controversial bills or as an addition to other legislation, where it could also be passed by unanimous consent if there are no objections to it.

AOA led efforts to get the bill revised and passed out of committee with Congressional testimony from AOA’s Executive Director, Utah outfitter Brian Merrill, and NOLS Public Policy Director Aaron Bannon testifying on behalf of a revision to the original draft at the April 4, 2014 hearing. We thank Representative Bishop (R-UT) and Representative DeFazio (D-OR) for working together to get this bill through the Committee.

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Fire season underway, states press for federal funding

THE WASHINGTON POST

GovBeat

By Reid Wilson July 16, 2014

A years-long drought and a warmer-than-average winter have Western states worried they face extraordinary challenges in what by many estimates will be a record fire season.

The National Interagency Fire Center says the threat of wildfires is already above normal in much of Oregon and California, and the high desert in Washington, Idaho and Nevada. Parts of Arizona remain under heightened threat, too.

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The drought that has parched Western states over the last three years has led to dangerous fuel conditions that, as the summer heat intensifies, will only get worse.

“The vegetation is so dry, it’s generating so much heat that it’s creating extraordinary conditions,” Ken Pimlott, director of CalFire, said in an interview. He called those conditions “unprecedented.”

Until this week, the number of fires burning in Western states had been below recent yearly averages, giving hope to cash-strapped states that predictions of an out-of-control fire season were overblown. But lightening storms in Oregon and Idaho and a heat wave that brought 90 to 100-degree temperatures have ignited a wave of new fires.

“Within the last five days, we were far, far below average. That’s in the process of changing right now,” said Randall Eardley, deputy chief of external affairs at the National Interagency Fire Center. “We’re still trying to get a handle on how much fire is in Oregon. But it’s a lot.”

Pimlott was among local officials from California, Colorado and Arizona who testified Tuesday before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee on the threats posed by this year’s fire season. The White House has asked Congress for $615 million to fight fires, in part to clear the fuel that leads to more intense burns.

But Congress is unlikely to give the Interior Department the additional money. The House Appropriations Committee on Tuesday approved almost $4.1 billion for wildfire prevention and fighting, $150 million higher than last fiscal year.

House Republicans and Senate Democrats might agree on another change to firefighting policy states are advocating: Members on both sides say they support changing the way money for catastrophic wildfires is budgeted. Proposals in both chambers would treat catastrophic wildland fires the same way other disasters — like hurricanes, floods or earthquakes — are treated, funding them through disaster cap adjustments.

Current law requires firefighting money to come from budgets set by Congress. As fires get more intense and burn closer to rural and exurban communities, the Forest Service and the Interior Department have exceeded fire suppression budgets in eight of the last 10 years. When the money runs out, those agencies must borrow funds from accounts meant for fire prevention, like clearing fuels — which can exacerbate future fires.

“Ultimately, the real issue for all of us is that when funds are borrowed, it impacts fire prevention,” Pimlott said. “If we keep eroding away at the other treatments that help us mitigate the impacts that we’ve seen, the fire problem will only get worse.”

States like California face acute budget shortfalls as global changes in climate and weather patterns create longer fire seasons. Those states typically seek reimbursement from the federal government to cover fire fighting costs, but those costs are rising. Cal Fire has already battled nearly 3,000 wildfires since the beginning of the year.

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Fires burning more than 100 acres across Western states. The numbers correspond to the priority the National Interagency Fire Center places on each fire in order to allocate suppression resources. (Source: National Interagency Fire Center)

The state legislature increased the agency’s emergency wildfire budget to $209 million for the fiscal year that began July 1. But just six days into the fiscal year, the agency had already spent $13.9 million to fight two major fires in Yolo and Napa counties. Together, those fires burned nearly 11,000 acres.

Cal Fire has hired an extra 300 firefighters and leased an extra air tanker to deal with what it anticipates will be an unusually busy fire season, Pimlott said; the agency has partnered with the state National Guard to prepare to deploy even more crews if necessary.

Twenty-six large fires are burning more than 162,000 acres throughout Western states. Oregon has been hardest hit, battling 16 large fires; California, Texas and Washington are all battling two fires, and Idaho officials are fighting back three blazes. So far this year, firefighters have battled a total of 29,812 wildfires of varying degree.

RENEWING A PARTNERSHIP TO PROMOTE TOURISM AND CREATE JOBS IN THE WEST

 


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Secretary Jewell, Western Governors and Federal Agency Representatives with the Western States Tourism Policy Council Members

Over the years, the Department of the Interior has worked closely with the Western States Tourism Policy Council, a consortium of 13 state tourism offices, to promote tourism throughout the West as a way of spurring economic growth and supporting jobs in local communities. Today, I am renewing this partnership by signing the continuation of a Memorandum of Understanding between the departmentand the council to continue to expand our joint promotional efforts and make it more attractive for

sec_jewellvisitors, including international visitors, to visit and vacation in the West. The Departments of Agriculture, Transportation, Commerce, the Army Corps of Engineers, and the Advisory Council on Historic Preservation also are signatories of the memorandum. There could be no better time to renew this partnership. In 2012, President Obama’s launched aNational Travel and Tourism Strategy, setting an ambitious goal of attracting and welcoming 100 million international visitors annually by the end of 2021. Two years later, we are on track to meet that goal. The number of international visitors to the U.S. has grown from 55 million in 2009 to 70 million in 2013. The growth in international visitation has created about 175,000 new jobs in the past five years. Much of this tourism occurs on public lands throughout the West – national parks, national forests, national wildlife refuges, sites such as Hoover Dam, and other lands that attract millions of people each year. With its beautiful landscapes, magnificent parks and historic places, the West especially benefits from increased tourism. In 2012, travelers to Western states spent $276.5 billion, generating 2.4 million jobs. I’m pleased to stand with the federal family in working with the states’ tourism councils to leverage our respective resources and expertise to draw even more visitors from all corners of the world to experience the beauty and history and adventure of the West. Sally Jewell is the U.S. Secretary of the Interior