BY DAVID PERRYMAN
In 1989 during the Reagan Administration, the Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] and the Department of Defense [DOD] signed an agreement that required that all surplus Department of Defense vehicles that did not meet the EPA emission standards to be destroyed as they were taken out of military service.
That agreement has continued without amendment for the past 25 years. Fortunately, for thousands of fire departments across the country, the agreement has not been enforced.
According to a July 3 story in The Journal Record, George Geissler, Oklahoma’s Director of Forestry Services says that our state has more than 900 rural fire departments using about 8,800 pieces of equipment valued at a total of $150 million.
In fact, the exact number of vehicles and equipment that have been sourced from the Federal Excess Personal Property [FEPP] and Firefighter Property [FPP] programs is 8,812 and according to a press release issued July 2 by the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture, Food, and Forestry.
For decades Oklahoma rural fire departments have rotated surplus military vehicles in and out of service. The value of the vehicles and equipment received annually in Oklahoma is between $13 million and $15 million. These programs are possible through the U.S. Army Tank-Automotive Command [TACOM].
Without question, if the Department of Defense is going to enforce the 25-year-old agreement by withholding equipment from our rural fire departments, it will be devastating to residents and businesses located in rural Oklahoma.
According to Choctaw Fire Chief Loren Bumgarner, quoted in the Journal Record article, “Devastating is not a strong enough word for this.”
With Oklahoma being more and more dependent upon federal funding and with Oklahoma so dependent upon federal surplus vehicles and equipment, it is frightening to consider the possibility as wildfire season approaches that the good men and women who make up the rural volunteer fire departments will not have access to this source of equipment to protect property and lives across our state almost daily.
These men and women volunteers give unselfishly of their time to keep your property and casualty insurance rates down and allow us all to afford to live in rural areas.
If there is any consideration to eliminate replacement vehicles, we must all contact the appropriate agencies and elected officials.
What is unusual in the current situation is that no one can point to the source of the information that such a decision is even being considered. According to the Journal Record article, an EPA spokeswoman said, “the EPA has just been made aware of the issue and is looking into it with our contacts at DOD.”
Likewise, according to a story appearing in several state newspapers by CNHI News Service, a spokeswoman for the Defense Department Surplus property program said that she was “unaware of any changes.”
Curiously, while the story has “spread like wildfire” in Oklahoma since the Oklahoma Department of Agriculture press release was issued on July 2, there is absolutely no comment or concern from any other citizens, departments or agencies in any state except Oklahoma. Consequently, I have made an Open Records Request to determine what information Oklahoma officials have received from either the EPA or the Department of Defense that would substantiate the press release.
One reason for my concern is the fact that just two years ago, in 2012, the EPA issued a Regulatory Announcement [EPA-420-F-12-025] that removed emission restrictions from Fire Trucks and Ambulances using diesel. It would not be consistent for the EPA to exempt diesel powered fire trucks from emission standards and impose emission standards on gasoline-powered vehicles. Likewise, it would seem unlikely that the Department of Defense would take such a course of action.
In any event, if a federal agency is refusing to allow Oklahoma fire departments to receive surplus vehicles it is imperative that we activate citizens to express our concern and demand that the program continue.
However, if neither the Department of Defense nor the EPA is attempting to prevent the vehicles from being distributed to our fire departments, then it would appear that the matter is a non-issue and the other 49 states are correct in their non-concern.
Federal agencies, particularly the EPA, do not need any help with bad public relations. Let’s pull together and help our rural fire departments and not demonize the Department of Defense or the EPA just because they are departments of the federal government.
– David Perryman, a Chickasha Democrat, represents District 56 in the Oklahoma House of Representatives