Politics & Policy

EPA Tries to Cut Off Crucial Supply of Military Surplus Trucks for Fire Departments

Vehicles such as the M-939 are widely used in the armed forces.
An emissions policy almost prevented rural fire departments from getting the surplus trucks they need.

Rural fire departments and law enforcement agencies nearly lost access to the army surplus equipment they need to protect property and citizens because the Environmental Protection Agency had discontinued the program.

The program has now been reinstated, though access may still be affected by the EPA’s emissions standards, if surplus vehicles aren’t given the same exemption active-duty military vehicles do.

Excess Property Manager Eric Ward of the Kansas Forest Service says he doesn’t know whether Kansas fire departments will actually be able to access the trucks they need. The longstanding program has allowed rural fire departments to repurpose surplus military equipment into fire engines and water tenders, but recently ceased when the Department of Defense decided that the vehicles didn’t comply with emissions standards.

The military has long been able to use vehicles that don’t meet the EPA carbon emissions standards, but was not technically permitted to transfer those vehicles elsewhere. If they couldn’t transfer them as surplus, the vehicles would be destroyed.

Now the military exemption has been redesigned, in theory, to permit dirty trucks to be used in certain surplus capacities. But Ward sayss he can’t find the stock numbers for the trucks the Kansas fire departments use.

“A lot of the tactical vehicles now available [on surplus] will be good for law enforcement to use, but I don’t see the trucks listed that the fire departments need,” he tells National Review Online. Ward added that the Pentagon said it will put more stock numbers on its list, but that final decisions haven’t been made.

Politicians from rural states quickly criticized the EPA when it appeared that civilian agencies would lose access to the surplus vehicles. Oklahoma’s rural fire departments, for instance, currently use nearly 9,000 military surplus vehicles and pieces of equipment, valued at more than $150 million.

“Surplus military equipment has been essential to supporting the efforts of local fire departments, which are the first responders in 75% of all wildfires,” Oklahoma governor Mary Fallin wrote in a letter to the EPA. “The decision to terminate this successful program was clearly made without thought to the adverse effects to local firefighting efforts and the ability to protect the lives and property of our citizens.”

Wildfires themselves hurt the environment with carbon emissions and other toxins, Fallin noted, saying the decision would have hampered the EPA’s own goals by crippling fire departments.

Oklahoma senator Jim Inhofe and Fallin eventually struck the deal that will exempt rural fire departments from emissions standards.

Kansas fire departments, meanwhile, currently use 455 pieces of equipment that would be worth just under $21 million new. Without the surplus program, Ward says, the state would “have nothing to offer those departments to replace them.” Replacing Kansas fire departments’ trucks would cost a prohibitive $40 million.

Even assuming the Pentagon does manage to make the surplus trucks available to fire departments under the new exemption, trucks will now have to be inventoried manually, costing more money.

Suzanne McCombs, a spokeswoman for the Oklahoma Forestry Services, told NRO that to her knowledge the Oklahoma fire departments will be able to acquire surplus vehicles and equipment, but said “there’s a lot of work to be done.”

“It’s just a lot of red tape and logistical issues,” she said.

— Celina Durgin is a Franklin Center intern at National Review Online.

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