Madam President, while I was home over the recess, I had the opportunity to visit with lots of Kansans. One of the conversations I had was with a county emergency preparedness director in advance of a Fourth of July parade. He brought to my attention something we had heard just in the last few days about a development at the Department of Defense.
I want to mention to my colleagues and ask them, but ask the agencies involved — which would be the Department of Defense, the Department of Agriculture, the Environmental Protection Agency — to see if we cannot find a solution to a problem that should not be a problem.
In your home state, and mine, Madam President we have lots of volunteer fire departments. One of the developments over time has been their equipment is excess military equipment that is either loaned or given to those small town fire departments. They are volunteers. In my hometown, the fire whistle blows and men and women from across the community gather at the fire station, get in the truck, and go to the fire and fight the fire.
Their equipment is expensive and the budget they have to fulfill their mission is small. One way they have been able to overcome that small budget and expensive equipment is through the Department of Defense, which has, over a long period of time, donated excess military equipment to the local fire departments. They do this through the State forester. In fact, 95 percent of the communities in Kansas are protected by a volunteer fire department and 50 million acres of land is protected by volunteer fire departments.
Well, 3 weeks ago, the Department of Defense halted the transfer of excess trucks, generators, pumps, and engine parts, based upon emissions regulations and an agreement that apparently exists between the Department of Defense and the Environmental Protection Agency.
The EPA, apparently, has to approve the transfer of those vehicles because they may not satisfy the clean air standards. So what seems to me to be a commonsense solution to the need for fire equipment — including trucks — is now being halted because of concerns of whether those vehicles — those old vehicles no longer used by the Department of Defense — meet the emissions standards.
Well, I would certainly first remind folks that these trucks are very important when there is a fire, but there is not a fire every day. It is not as if these vehicles are on the road in a constant fashion day in and day out. I would also indicate that the fires they put out increase emissions, so the marginal increase in the amount of emissions because you may be using a fire truck that does not meet the emissions standards is well overcome by the fire that burns the grass, the forest, the trees or a home by what that fire puts into the atmosphere.
Since January 1 of this year, there have been nearly 92,000 acres burned in more than 5,000 wild land fires — grass fires — across Kansas.
For most of those rural fire departments, the Federal excess equipment is the only equipment they can afford to handle those natural or manmade disasters.
The Kansas Forest Service, as I said, administers this program through the U.S. Department of Agriculture. They provided 40 to 50 trucks per year, and they were able to set aside again that number for Kansas — 40 to 50 trucks — for Kansas fire departments for this year.
We currently have 445 trucks issued in Kansas, valued at about $21 million, and there are 52 fire departments in Kansas waiting for a replacement truck.
The Department of Defense’s decision to implement this policy will cost fire departments in Kansas and across the country the opportunity to utilize excess equipment, save lives, and protect property.
My request is that my colleagues who have an interest in this issue work with me and others and help us bring to the attention of the Secretary of Defense, Secretary Hagel, and the EPA Administrator, Gina McCarthy, as well as USDA, which administers the program for the fire departments, that we work together to find a commonsense solution.
Apparently the alternative is if these trucks are not available to be transferred to Kansas and elsewhere, to local fire departments, then the trucks are destroyed, smashed, and somehow disposed of in a landfill. Again, I would suggest that the conservation, the environmental opportunity to see the life of these vehicles extended, as compared to being destroyed, smashed, and disposed of, would work in the favor of the environment as well as in the opportunity to provide safety and security for hundreds of thousands of Kansans, hundreds of thousands of Americans, who depend upon rural fire departments, hometown fire departments, to meet the needs of their safety and security.
It seems to me we are asking for something simple. We just need a little common sense and cooperation among an agency and two departments. I would ask my colleagues that you help me find a solution to this problem by getting those agencies, the Department of Defense in particular, to explain why this is a good policy with such detriment to the American people.