On the Senate Floor, Senator Carper Advocates for the Passage of the Fire Grants and Safety Act

The Fire Grants and Safety Act includes the ADVANCE Act, which Senator Carper led through the Environment and Public Works Committee

Today on the floor of the U.S. Senate, Senator Tom Carper (D-Del.) urged his colleagues to vote in favor of the Fire Grants and Safety Act (S.870). This bipartisan legislation equips firefighters with the tools and training they need to safely do their jobs in communities nationwide, and includes the ADVANCE Act which would support the deployment of new, carbon-free nuclear technologies and strengthen American leadership on nuclear energy.

Read Senator Carper’s remarks as prepared below or watch his speech at the link here.

Mr. President, I rise today in strong support of critical bipartisan legislation that will come to the Senate floor later this evening: the Fire Grants and Safety Act. Importantly, this bill also includes another critical piece of bipartisan legislation that I have been working on with Senator Shelley Moore Capito and a bipartisan coalition of our colleagues for years — the Accelerating Deployment of Versatile, Advanced Nuclear for Clean Energy Act — also known as the ADVANCE Act.

Last month, the House of Representatives passed these two bills as a package by an overwhelming bipartisan vote of 393 to 13. Now, we have an opportunity here in the Senate today to do the same. Before this evening’s vote, I’d like to take a few minutes to highlight the significance of both the Fire Grants and Safety Act, as well as the ADVANCE Act.

In my role as co-chair of the Congressional Fire Services Caucus, along with Senators Susan Collins and Lisa Murkowski, I’ve shared here on the Senate floor many times before that every day, our nation’s firefighters bravely run toward danger in order to save lives across America. In my home state of Delaware, there are more than 6,000 firefighters, and a great majority of them are volunteers! The same is true in many states across America.

Yet despite their enormous dedication to protecting our communities, their jobs are not getting easier. In fact, they are getting harder, and the risks that they face continue to grow every year. Annually, there are over 36 million emergency calls that fire services respond to. That’s a 20 percent increase in the last 12 years.

This is in large part due to climate change and the resulting increase in extreme weather events across our country, which are translating directly into hotter, bigger and more dangerous fires. Just this week, our country is experiencing record-breaking temperatures from New England to California, where heat risks have been categorized by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration as “extreme.”

It’s clear that the kinds of emergencies that firefighters must respond to are changing, and the demands on fire departments across the country are changing, as well. For example, last year when a devastating tornado touched down in Sussex County, Delaware, it was our firefighters who showed up to lead people to safety. We’ve seen similar acts of service across the country, especially on the West Coast, where firefighters have long helped families escape the hazards of wildfires. 

We have a moral obligation – which I believe is a shared responsibility – to provide the resources that firefighters need to continue to protect us, our families and our businesses. And today, we have an opportunity to do just that.

The Fire Grants and Safety Act reauthorizes two critical grant programs that fire departments across our country rely on to safeguard our communities. The first is the Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response grant program, which provides funding to local fire departments to hire much-needed personnel to respond round-the-clock to emergency situations. The second is the Assistance to Firefighters Grant program, which helps provide fire departments and emergency medical service organizations with the vital training and equipment, like firetrucks and protective gear, that they need.

Fire departments across Delaware have contacted my office to share how these grant programs are a lifeline for their work, and I’m sure our colleagues have heard similar stories of the essential role these programs play in fire departments across America. For example, fire departments in Colorado have reported a lack of critical funding and supplies, which could be aided by the Assistance for Firefighters Grant program.  And firefighters in Vermont and West Virginia – where I was born – have reported being overwhelmed and understaffed in light of recent emergencies in their communities.

It is clear as day that reauthorizing these grant programs is imperative.

The Fire Grants and Safety Act will also enable the United States Fire Administration to continue providing leadership, coordination and training for first responders and emergency medical personnel. As the lead federal agency for fire data collection, public fire education, fire research and fire service training, the United States Fire Administration ensures that the fire service is prepared to respond to any and all hazards.

Firefighters put their lives on the line for us every single day. I’m proud to work with Senator Gary Peters as well as with my Congressional Fire Services Caucus co-chairs, Senators Collins and Murkowski, on this legislation to equip our firefighters with the tools and training they need to do their jobs safely.

There is an African proverb that goes something like this: “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” Today, we are going far and we are going together – both Democrats and Republicans – by considering not one, but two bipartisan priorities at the same time.

That second priority before us today is legislation known as the ADVANCE Act. This is legislation that Senator Shelley Moore Capito, Senator Sheldon Whitehouse and I have worked on tirelessly for years in both a bipartisan and a bicameral manner.

The ADVANCE Act accelerates the deployment of our nation’s largest source of clean power: nuclear energy. As some of our colleagues may know, nuclear energy powers millions of homes and businesses across the nation every day with zero emissions. It is an indispensable tool in our ongoing efforts to address the climate crisis and strengthen our nation’s energy security.

My interest in the potential for nuclear energy goes back to my days as a Navy ROTC midshipman at Ohio State University and, later, as a Naval Flight Officer tracking nuclear submarines throughout the oceans of the world. I witnessed how initially our submarines and later our aircraft carriers traveled millions of miles safely on nuclear power. Largely because of the success of the Naval nuclear propulsion program, the United States had the technology and the workforce at-the-ready to build a commercial nuclear energy industry that could provide safe, reliable and clean energy to American homes and businesses.

Today, nuclear energy provides about 20 percent of America’s electricity and nearly half of America’s clean energy. Let me repeat that: nuclear energy provides about 20 percent of America’s electricity and nearly half of America’s clean energy. There is no question that this carbon-free source of energy can, and will, help us meet our climate goals. That is why I have long believed nuclear energy needs to be part of our work to address climate change while also creating thousands of jobs in this country.

The ADVANCE Act empowers the Nuclear Regulatory Commission with the tools and workforce it needs to keep our current reactors safe and to review new nuclear technologies efficiently. These resources will enable the Commission to provide the certainty needed to deploy more clean energy and to make sure that our commitment to safety remains paramount at this crucial moment in the history of our planet.

The ADVANCE Act also directs the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to support 21st century applications of nuclear energy. For example, the ADVANCE Act requires the Commission to explore how to repurpose retired fossil fuel fired power plants as well as the existing infrastructure to support new, clean nuclear energy production.

Additionally, this legislation fundamentally – and firmly – maintains the core of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission’s mission to ensure the safety of America’s nuclear power. Unless the Nuclear Regulatory Commission diligently ensures the safety of the nuclear fleet of reactors every day, as well as new nuclear technologies, the U.S. will not be able to realize the potential of this carbon-free energy source. And the Nuclear Regulatory Commission must maintain this commitment to safety while considering all stakeholder views and concerns equally in order to maintain the public’s trust and confidence.

Ultimately, this bill addresses the most pressing needs of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission and will lay the foundation for the safe and successful deployment of the next generation of advanced reactors. As a result, we will strengthen American leadership on nuclear energy and provide climate leadership on the world stage.

Let me be clear. The ADVANCE Act will strengthen our energy and our national security and reduce greenhouse gas emissions as well as create thousands of new jobs while growing our economy. I’m not sure what our colleagues would call that in their states – but in Delaware, that’s what we call a win-win-win situation!

In closing, the legislation we will vote on today will provide fundamental support for our nation’s firefighters while bringing our nation one step closer to a cleaner energy future. Once again, I want to share my heartfelt gratitude for our colleagues and our staff members who have worked with us for months – in some cases, even years – in order to bring these provisions across the finish line.

So many of our colleagues have had a hand in this effort – but in particular, I want to thank Senator Gary Peters, Senator Susan Collins, Senator Lisa Murkowski, Senator Shelley Moore Capito and Senator Sheldon Whitehouse. We couldn’t have done this without each of you.

Before I close, I’d also like to thank the Speaker of the House, Congressman Johnson, for ensuring this bill’s passage through his chamber with resounding bipartisan support, and the Senate Majority Leader, Senator Schumer, for working with us to bring this legislation up for a vote today. With that said, I want to urge all of our colleagues in the Senate to join us in passing this vital legislation and send it to the President’s desk, where he is looking forward to signing it into law!

Thank you, and with that, I yield back.