By Matthew Daly

The Associated Press

WASHINGTON — House Republicans are targeting environmental rules to allow faster approval for tree cutting in national forests in response to the deadly wildfires in California.

Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Thursday that lawmakers will vote next week on a bill to loosen environmental regulations for forest-thinning projects on federal lands. The GOP argues the actions will reduce the risk of fire.

The Republican bill makes needed changes to forest management and “includes reforms to keep our forests healthy and less susceptible to the types of fires that ravaged our state this month,” McCarthy said.

California has declared a public health emergency in the northern part of the state, where fires that began Oct. 8 have killed at least 42 people, making them the deadliest series of wildfires in state history.

The GOP bill is one of at least three being considered in Congress to address wildfires. Republicans and the timber industry have long complained about rules that make it harder to cut down trees to reduce fire risk.

Democrats and environmental groups decry GOP policies they say would clear-cut vast swaths of national forests, harming wildlife and the environment.

“We must ask ourselves: What kind of future are we leaving for the next generation when we have failed to conserve federal forests that overwhelm the sky with thick smoke and ash when they burn?” asked Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., chief sponsor of the Senate GOP bill and chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee.

Rep. Bruce Westerman, R-Ark., sponsor of the House bill, said fires devastating communities across California, Montana and other Western states show “how years of unmanaged federal forests have wreaked havoc on our environment, polluting our air and water and destroying thousands of acres of wildlife habitat,” Westerman said.

The flurry of legislation comes as the Forest Service has spent a record $2.4 billion battling forest fires in one of the nation’s worst fire seasons. Wildfires have burned nearly 9 million acres across the country, with much of the devastation in California, Oregon and Montana.