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Congressional Quarterly: Air Force Faces Texas Firestorm

June 18, 2012
Article

By Kerry Young

Texas lawmakers are doing all they can to block the Air Force from moving eight versatile C-130 cargo planes, which often have helped in disaster relief, from a local base to one in the northern Great Plains.

“The Gulf Coast is known for its whip-whirling tropical storms, devastating hurricanes, wildfires and floods,” Ted Poe , a Republican from the southeast Texas coast, argued in March on the House floor. “When is the last time you heard of a hurricane in Montana?”

The Air Force’s plan to shift the planes from a base in Fort Worth has pleased the Montana delegation. Its two Democratic senators, Max Baucus and Jon Tester, have said the transfer will make up for the Air Force moving F-15s out of their state. But in a joint letter to Air Force Secretary Michael B. Donley, the entire Lone Star delegation pointed out that the Texas Air National Guard has used C-130s for more than 400 missions responding to storms, bringing more than 900 tons of emergency supplies.

If disaster relief were the only criterion, Texas would have a case: It holds the record for presidential declarations of major disasters, with 86 of them since the 1950s.

Montana has had 20. Texas leads in wildfire emergencies as well, with 234 compared with Montana’s 34.

GOP Rep. Kay Granger, a former Fort Worth mayor who serves on the Defense Appropriations Subcommittee, has turned to one of the fastest routes for blocking a federal department’s actions: She put language in the House version of the fiscal 2013 Defense appropriations bill to bar the Air Force from using federal funds for retiring, divesting, realigning or transferring its aircraft.

At a March hearing, Lt. Gen. Harry M. Wyatt III, director of the Air National Guard, estimated that it would cost about $86 million to make the transfer. The Air Force defends the move as a cost-cutting step, and says the transfer costs will be offset by savings elsewhere.

Montana’s Baucus and Tester sent out a release in March promising not to rest “until the last of the C-130s lands in Great Falls.”

Texas Republican Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, a Defense appropriator, said last week that she was "confident we can reach an agreement that avoids the unnecessary expense of building new facilities and moving planes when there is no military or security interest in doing so."