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115th Congress       }                                   {  Rept. 115-357
                         HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
 1st Session         }                                   {  Part 1

======================================================================



 
 NATIONAL FOREST SYSTEM VEGETATION MANAGEMENT PILOT PROGRAM ACT OF 2017

                                _______
                                

October 19, 2017.--Committed to the Committee of the Whole House on the 
              State of the Union and ordered to be printed

                                _______
                                

Mr. Conaway, from the Committee on Agriculture, submitted the following

                              R E P O R T

                        [To accompany H.R. 2921]

      [Including cost estimate of the Congressional Budget Office]

    The Committee on Agriculture, to whom was referred the bill 
(H.R. 2921) to establish a vegetation management pilot program 
on National Forest System land to better protect utility 
infrastructure from passing wildfire, and for other purposes, 
having considered the same, report favorably thereon without 
amendment and recommend that the bill do pass.

                           Brief Explanation

    The National Forest System Vegetation Management Pilot 
Program Act of 2017 establishes a pilot program on National 
Forest System land to better protect utility infrastructure 
from passing wildfire.

                    Purpose and Need for Legislation

    H.R. 2921 addresses the need for collaboration in 
maintaining our U.S. Forest Service (USFS) lands and energy 
infrastructure rights-of-way that local communities and 
businesses rely upon.
    Deteriorating forest health, particularly in the western 
United States, has increased the frequency and severity for 
forest fires in recent years. This has resulted in increased 
fire threat to electric transmission and associated utility 
infrastructure across USFS land.
    The Government Accountability Office has found that fuel 
reduction treatment projects reduce flammable vegetation, 
minimize the severity of wildland fires, increase landscape 
resiliency to fire, and provide firefighter access during fire 
suppression activities.
    If a fire destroys utility infrastructure, there are 
several known and potential costs, including: infrastructure 
replacement, costs to customers for electric outages, 
government disaster funding, and supplemental appropriations.
    H.R. 2921 would create a pilot program to conduct limited 
and selective vegetation management near utility infrastructure 
outside of a right-of-way. To incentivize private 
participation, it creates a separate off-right-of-way liability 
standard from the current strict liability standard to a gross 
negligence standard for this voluntary work. The 10-year 
program--funded entirely by interested utility companies--
allows vegetation management on USFS lands--approved by the 
Secretary of Agriculture--up to 75 feet beyond the utility's 
right-of-way to better protect utility infrastructure and 
reduce the risk of forest fires.

               Section-by-Section Analysis of Legislation


   H.R. 2921 THE NATIONAL FOREST SYSTEM VEGETATION MANAGEMENT PILOT 
                          PROGRAM ACT OF 2017

Section 1. Short title

    Section 1 of the bill designates the title of the bill as 
the ``National Forest System Vegetation Management Pilot 
Program Act of 2017''.

Section 2. Utility Infrastructure Right-of-Way Vegetation Management 
        Pilot Program

    Subsection (a) of section 2 establishes a limited, 
voluntary pilot program to encourage land owners and operators 
to perform vegetation management on a proactive basis. The 
pilot program permits vegetation management projects on 
National Forest System land that is adjacent to or near rights-
of-way.
    Subsection (b) requires that eligible participants have 
rights-of-way on National Forest System land. The subsection 
further gives priority to eligible participants who have worked 
with the Forest Service to improve utility infrastructure 
protection prescriptions.
    Subsection (c) provides for the elements of a project under 
the pilot program. A project involves limited and select 
management activities that shall create the least amount of 
disturbance to protect utility infrastructure from wildfire; 
shall take place directly adjacent to or within 75 feet of the 
participant's right-of-way; and shall be subject to approval by 
the Forest Service. A project is prohibited from taking place 
within a designated wilderness area, wilderness study area, or 
inventoried roadless area. Activities under the pilot program 
may include thinning, fuel reduction, creation and treatment of 
shaded fuel breaks.
    Subsection (d) requires that a participant be responsible 
for all costs incurred by participating unless the Secretary 
determines that it is in the public interest for the Forest 
Service to contribute funds.
    Subsection (e) is a rule of construction that participation 
in the program does not affect any existing legal obligations 
of liability standards related to the right-of-way or fires 
resulting from causes other than activities performed under the 
project. A participant is not liable for damages caused by 
activities under the project unless in cases of gross 
negligence, in violation of criminal law, or where damages were 
caused by failure of the participant to comply with safety 
requirements imposed by the Forest Service as a condition of 
participation.
    Subsection (f) directs the Secretary to use existing laws 
and regulations to conduct the pilot program. It further allows 
the Secretary to waive or modify specific provisions of the 
Federal Acquisition Regulation in order to implement the pilot 
program in an efficient and expeditious manner.
    Subsection (g) allows the Secretary to retain funds 
provided to the Forest Service by a participant and use such 
funds, in amounts as may be appropriated, in the conduct of the 
pilot program, notwithstanding any other provision of law.
    Subsection (h) provides the relevant definitions for the 
Act.
    Subsection (i) sunsets the authority to conduct the pilot 
program on December 21, 2027.
    Subsection (j) requires the Secretary to report to 
Congress, every two years, on the status of the pilot program 
and any related projects.

                        Committee Consideration


                              I. HEARINGS

    No hearings were held by the Committee on H.R. 2921, 
National Forest System Vegetation Management Pilot Program Act 
of 2017.

                           II. FULL COMMITTEE

    The Committee on Agriculture met, pursuant to notice, with 
a quorum present, on October 4, 2017, to consider H.R. 2921, 
National Forest System Vegetation Management Pilot Program Act 
of 2017.
    H.R. 2921 was placed before the Committee for 
consideration. Without objection, a first reading of the bill 
was waived and it was open for amendment at any point.
    Chairman Conaway and Mr. Peterson were recognized for 
statements. There being no amendments, Mr. Peterson was 
recognized to offer a motion that the bill H.R. 2921 be 
reported favorably to the House with recommendation that it do 
pass. The motion was subsequently approved by voice vote.
    At the conclusion of the meeting, Chairman Conaway advised 
Members that pursuant to the rules of the House of 
Representatives Members had until October 6, 2017, to file any 
supplemental, minority, additional, or dissenting views with 
the Committee.
    Without objection, staff was given permission to make any 
necessary clerical, technical or conforming changes to reflect 
the intent of the Committee. Chairman Conaway thanked all the 
Members and adjourned the meeting.

                            Committee Votes

    In compliance with clause 3(b) of rule XIII of the House of 
Representatives, H.R. 2921 was reported by voice vote with a 
majority quorum present. There was no request for a recorded 
vote.

                      Committee Oversight Findings

    Pursuant to clause 3(c)(1) of rule XIII of the Rules of the 
House of Representatives, the Committee on Agriculture's 
oversight findings and recommendations are reflected in the 
body of this report.

           Budget Act Compliance (Sections 308, 402, and 423)

    The provisions of clause 3(c)(2) of rule XIII of the Rules 
of the House of Representatives and section 308(a)(1) of the 
Congressional Budget Act of 1974 (relating to estimates of new 
budget authority, new spending authority, new credit authority, 
or increased or decreased revenues or tax expenditures) are not 
considered applicable. The estimate and comparison required to 
be prepared by the Director of the Congressional Budget Office 
under clause 3(c)(3) of rule XIII of the Rules of the House of 
Representatives and sections 402 and 423 of the Congressional 
Budget Act of 1974 submitted to the Committee prior to the 
filing of this report are as follows:

                                     U.S. Congress,
                               Congressional Budget Office,
                                  Washington, DC, October 17, 2017.
Hon. K. Michael Conaway,
Chairman, Committee on Agriculture,
House of Representatives, Washington, DC.
    Dear Mr. Chairman: The Congressional Budget Office has 
prepared the enclosed cost estimate for H.R. 2921, the National 
Forest System Vegetation Management Pilot Program Act of 2017.
    If you wish further details on this estimate, we will be 
pleased to provide them. The CBO staff contact is Jeff LaFave.
            Sincerely,
                                                Keith Hall,
                                                          Director.
    Enclosure.

H.R. 2921--National Forest System Vegetation Management Pilot Program 
        Act of 2017

    H.R. 2921 would establish a pilot program that would permit 
electric utilities to conduct vegetation management projects, 
including tree thinning and fuel reduction, within 75 feet of 
their rights-of-way on lands administered by the Forest 
Service. Firms participating in the pilot program would be 
required to cover any costs incurred by the Forest Service to 
administer the program. The agency would be authorized to 
retain the receipts from such cost recovery, but because those 
amounts would not be available to be spent until appropriated 
by the Congress enacting the bill would have the effect of 
reducing direct spending.
    The bill also would exempt an electric utility from legal 
liability if the utility causes damage while carrying out a 
vegetation management project approved by the Forest Service, 
unless the damage was caused by gross negligence or failure to 
comply with safety requirements imposed by the Forest Service. 
Based on information provided by the agency regarding damages 
caused by similar activities in recent years, CBO estimates 
that enacting this provision would have a negligible effect on 
the amount of funds the federal government would receive.
    CBO estimates that implementing the bill would have no 
significant effect on the federal budget. Because enacting H.R. 
2921 would increase offsetting receipts (and thus decrease 
direct spending), pay-as-you-go procedures apply. However CBO 
estimates that additional receipts under the bill would total 
less than $500,000 a year. Enacting the bill would not affect 
revenues.
    CBO estimates that enacting the bill would not increase net 
direct spending or on-budget deficits in any of the four 
consecutive 10-year periods beginning in 2028.
    H.R. 2921 contains no intergovernmental or private-sector 
mandates as defined in the Unfunded Mandates Reform Act.
    The CBO staff contact for this estimate is Jeff LaFave. The 
estimate was approved by H. Samuel Papenfuss, Deputy Assistant 
Director for Budget Analysis.

                    Performance Goals and Objectives

    H.R. 2921 does not authorize funding, therefore, clause 
3(c)(4) of rule XIII of the Rules of the House of 
Representatives is inapplicable.

                        Committee Cost Estimate

    Pursuant to clause 3(d)(2) of rule XIII of the Rules of the 
House of Representatives, the Committee report incorporates the 
cost estimate prepared by the Director of the Congressional 
Budget Office pursuant to sections 402 and 423 of the 
Congressional Budget Act of 1974.

                      Advisory Committee Statement

    No advisory committee within the meaning of section 5(b) of 
the Federal Advisory Committee Act was created by this 
legislation.

                Applicability to the Legislative Branch

    The Committee finds that the legislation does not relate to 
the terms and conditions of employment or access to public 
services or accommodations within the meaning of section 
102(b)(3) of the Congressional Accountability Act (Public Law 
104-1).

                       Federal Mandates Statement

    The Committee adopted as its own the estimate of Federal 
mandates prepared by the Director of the Congressional Budget 
Office pursuant to section 423 of the Unfunded Mandates Reform 
Act (Public Law 104-4).

Earmark Statement Required by Clause 9 of Rule XXI of the Rules of the 
                        House of Representatives

    H.R. 2921 does not contain any congressional earmarks, 
limited tax benefits, or limited tariff benefits as defined in 
clause 9(e), 9(f), or 9(g) of rule XXI of the Rules of the 
House Representatives.

                    Duplication of Federal Programs

    This bill does not establish or reauthorize a program of 
the Federal Government known to be duplicative of another 
Federal program, a program that was included in any report from 
the Government Accountability Office to Congress pursuant to 
section 21 of Public Law 111-139, or a program related to a 
program identified in the most recent Catalog of Federal 
Domestic Assistance.

                  Disclosure of Directed Rule Makings

    The Committee does not believe that the legislation directs 
an executive branch official to conduct any specific rule 
making proceedings within the meaning of 5 U.S.C. 551.