The Defense Department has frozen the transfer of surplus military equipment to local fire departments, inflaming a bipartisan group of senators in the peak of wildfire season, because of environmental concerns.

AP Photo/The Wenatchee World, Don Seabrook

The department announced it would stop transferring unused military trucks, generators and other diesel-powered equipment to rural, mostly voluntary and often cash-strapped fire departments, because the equipment might not meet the Environmental Protection Agency emissions standards. In previous years, that amounted to about $150 million worth of equipment for local fire departments for trucks, pumps, generators and engine parts.

For several decades, a national security exemption was given to allow the transfer, but that was stopped this year, according to the senators who wrote Defense Secretary Chuck Hagel.

Two separate DOD programs, the U.S. Army’s Tank and Automotive Command and the Defense Logistics Agency announced in June they would not transfer the property under the Federal Excess Personal Property Program and the Firefighter Property Program.

“We are deeply concerned that this decision was made during the peak of wildfire season,” the senators said in their letter to Hagel last Thursday. “We see no justification for government red-tape to stand in the way of helping first responders get the equipment they need to respond to wildland fires, floods, and other natural disasters.”

Republican Sen. John McCain, whose state of Arizona is particularly prone to the wildfires, circulated the letter that gained 24 other signatures, including from seven Democrats.

The surplus equipment has also been used for responding to natural disasters and for law enforcement.

“So far this year, 83 percent of all wildfires have been responded to by state and local fire agencies, most of which were on federal lands,” the letter said.

Army spokeswoman Elaine Conway did not immediately respond to inquiries from TheBlaze Tuesday.

The Defense Department had announced last week that it would look into restarting the program, but the restart could come with new requirements, such as mandating that all departments return the equipment for the federal government to destroy, according to the Wall Street Journal.

“While we understand that DoD and EPA may be close to resolving this issue, we respectfully request that you provide us with your specific course of action for rescinding the restrictions placed on both the FEPP and FPP programs and clarify any vehicle title concerns raised by state foresters and law enforcement agencies,” the senators said.

(H/T: Wall Street Journal)

Follow Fred Lucas (@FredVLucas3) on Twitter