Washington, DC – Today, Representative Curtis (R-UT), Deputy Republican Leader of the National Parks, Forests, and Public Lands Subcommittee on the House Natural Resources Committee, delivered the following remarks at the Natural Resources hearing. Two of the Congressman’s bipartisan bills were discussed in today’s markup and were included in a unanimous consent package, the AIR Safety Act and the SOAR Act.

“In my state alone, we’ve experienced nearly 550 wildfire starts this year. When these fires grow, our firefighters need to have every tool available to protect life and property – and too often private citizen drone usage will interfere and stop aerial suppression by flying near an active fire. My AIR Safety Act will take a closer look at these drone incursions and ways that we can remove interfering drones and deter incursions in the first place,” said Curtis. “Additionally, as the Republican sponsor of the SOAR Act, I am happy to see this bill moving and with such broad and bipartisan support for recreation. The SOAR Act will streamline recreation permitting and make our public lands more accessible to all Americans.”

Background

AIR Safety Act

The Congressman introduced the AIR Safety Act in November of last year with fellow Committee member, Representative Huffman (D-CA) and Senators Catherine Cortez Masto (D-NV) and Mitt Romney (R-UT).

  • The Federal Aviation Administration sets Temporary Flight Restrictions (TFRs) around wildfires. Although laws exist prohibiting interference with wildfire fighting, many people fly their private drones within TFRs to take pictures and videos of the fire. 
  • When unauthorized drones enter TFRs, events known as drone incursions, all aerial firefighting tools – including helicopters dropping flame retardant – must be grounded, resulting in valuable time and money being wasted that could otherwise be used to suppress the fire and save lives and property.
  • The bipartisan AIR Safety Act will bring attention to this issue and help determine the best ways to avoid future drone incursions.
  • The Committee unanimously approved an amendment to the AIR Safety Act to include state foresters in the carrying out the study. 

SOAR Act

The SOAR Act streamlines and improves the recreational permitting process for federal agencies by:

  • Improving the process for issuing recreation permits by directing the agencies to eliminate duplicative processes, reduce costs, shorten processing times and simplify environmental review;
  • Increasing flexibility for outfitters, guides and other outdoor leaders by allowing them to engage in activities that are substantially similar to the activity specified in their permit;
  • Making more recreation opportunities available by directing the agencies to offer more short-term permits and create a program for sharing unused permit service days between permit holders;
  • Increasing system transparency by directing agencies to notify the public when new recreation permits are available and requiring the agencies to provide timely responses to permit applicants;
  • Simplifying the permitting process for trips involving more than one land management agency by authorizing the agencies to issue a single joint permit covering the lands of multiple agencies;
  • Reducing permit fees and cost recovery expenses for small businesses and organizations by excluding certain revenue from permit fee calculations and establishing a simple 50-hour cost recovery fee exemption for permit processing;
  • Providing new protections for Forest Service permit holders by recognizing seasonal demand fluctuations and waiving permit use reviews in extraordinary circumstances beyond the control of the permit holder (wildfire, etc.);
  • Helping control liability insurance costs for permit holders by allowing them to use liability release forms with their clients; and
  • Reducing barriers to access for state universities, city recreation departments, and school districts by waiving the permit indemnification requirement for entities that are prohibited from providing indemnification under state law.  

The Congressman’s full remarks, as prepared for delivery, are below: 

“Thank you, Mr. Chairman, and thank you for including both the AIR Safety Act and the SOAR Act in today’s markup and unanimous consent package. 

In my state alone, we’ve experienced nearly 550 wildfire starts this year. When these fires grow, our firefighters need to have every tool available to protect life and property – and too often private citizen drone usage will interfere and stop aerial suppression by flying near an active fire.

My AIR Safety Act will take a closer look at these drone incursions and ways that we can remove interfering drones and deter incursions in the first place. 

I would like to thank Congressman Huffman for co-leading this effort with me and look forward to reviewing the results of this legislation once passed into law.

Additionally, as the Republican sponsor of the SOAR Act, I am happy to see this bill moving and with such broad and bipartisan support for recreation.

The SOAR Act will streamline recreation permitting and make our public lands more accessible to all Americans. I’d like to thank Congresswoman Haaland for her work with me on the SOAR Act, and appreciate her commitment to work on good bipartisan legislation.

I yield back the remainder of my time.”

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