House Panel Rejects Colorado Wildfire Spending

January 15, 2013
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A House panel declined to add funding for Colorado wildfires to a disaster relief bill                (Li Tsin Soon Image)

WASHINGTON — A bipartisan group of Colorado representatives failed to convince a Congressional committee to attach a $125 million amendment to a Hurricane Sandy relief bill Monday night. The amendment would have included a $19.8 million authorization to clean up debris in waters that the Waldo Canyon and High Park fires affected last spring.

Representatives Cory Gardner (R-Yuma) and Jared Polis (D-Boulder) sponsored the amendment. At a meeting of the House Rules Committee, Gardner said it was necessary to prevent drinking water and local waters from being polluted from runoff that the two fires caused.

“This is help before damage occurs. Once these debris flows occur, and we’re talking about 100-year (flows) that occur every five years, we will be glad this money was made available,” Gardner told members of the committee.

Gardner added that federal funding would go to clean-up efforts to prevent flooding and mud slides on federal land and ensure the safety of drinking water that three-quarters of Coloradans use.

Polis, a member of the Rules Committee, noted the Senate had passed a companion amendment to a Sandy-relief bill Jan. 4. “I think it’s largely non-controversial,” he said in an interview before the vote. “In Wyoming, Utah, and Colorado, we’re not going to get a hurricane any time soon.”

A majority of the members of the Rules panel disagreed. The amendment failed on a 9-4 vote. All nine Republicans on the committee voted against it, while all four Democrats voted for it. After it was clear the vote was headed for defeat, Polis raised his voice to declare he was a “yes” vote on the amendment and shoved a white paper in a dark binder.

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-Va.) said she opposed the amendment on procedural rather than substantive grounds. “I have an amendment I would like to offer myself, but you can’t add a new appropriation to a bill in the committee,” Foxx said in an interview.

Another House Republican said attaching such an amendment to a Sandy-relief bill would have been controversial.

“In my view, this is a bill (that should be) about Sandy … It is amendments like this that are going to make the amendment controversial,” said Rep. Ed Whitfield (R-Ky.) in an interview before the Rules committee’s vote.

The bills, whose price tag could be as much as $60 billion, would provide federal funding for victims of the late October hurricane and flood primarily in New York and New Jersey. The House passed a smaller hurricane-relief package Monday evening.

Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-Colo. Springs) said he supported the Gardner-Polis amendment, whose dollars would have flowed to his district in wildfire-ravaged north central Colorado, to prevent damage to utility pipelines, exposed roads, and bridges.

Lamborn said he would go through the regular appropriations process if the amendment died in committee and introduce it in the House Agricultural Committee.

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