Congressman Brian Higgins, D-NY-26, welcomed the inclusion of new language in the National Defense Authorization Act that would prohibit a Base Realignment and Closure (BRAC) round in 2017.
"The future of the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station is too important to this community and this country," said Higgins, a member of the House committees on homeland security and foreign affairs. "This change, once fully implemented and approved, would protect the base from the immediate risk of closure and allow us to refocus on continued support for efforts to sustain and grow the mission right here in Niagara Falls."
The Department of Defense, in the proposed budget for 2016, is requesting a new BRAC round in 2017, a process that threatens the future of military bases across the country, including the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station in Western New York.
The House of Representatives armed services subcommittee on readiness this week released proposed changes to the National Defense Authorization Act that would prohibit another BRAC. The subcommittee met yesterday to discuss the legislation and proposed changes. The subcommittee approved the changes and sent the markup to the full committee for consideration.
The Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station was among the sites listed on the closure list during the last BRAC round in 2005. Following staunch opposition from the community, Higgins and the entire Western New York delegation, the BRAC commission voted to save the Niagara Falls base.
In a 2012 report prepared by the Niagara County Department of Economic Development, the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station employs more than 2,600 individuals and has a total annual economic impact of more than $200 million.
Higgins also renewed his call for solar training at the Niagara Falls base.
He called on Congress to support the Solar Ready Vets program, a federal initiative introduced by the White House to provide job training and opportunities for veterans in the rapidly growing solar industry.
Speaking on the House Floor on Earth Day, Higgins urged colleagues to support the new initiative.
Solar industry employment is expected to grow by 20 percent nationwide in 2015, and new jobs will be created in Western New York with the opening of SolarCity. The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimates 5.3 percent of the nation's 21.2 million veterans are currently unemployed, with an additional 190,000 veterans leaving the U.S. military each year (114,000 veterans reside in Western New York).
In September, Higgins wrote to Energy Secretary Ernest Moniz to urge Niagara Falls Air Force Base to be considered for one of three sites for the pilot program, which became the Solar Ready Vets initiative. Recently it was announced the program will be expanded to six additional bases.
In a letter to the Department of Energy, Higgins urged the administration to choose the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station as one of the sites, noting the base's proximity to SolarCity and an existing solar training education program at Erie Community College.
"Mr. speaker, I rise in support of the recently announced Solar Ready Vets program, the recently announced federal initiative to train veterans for jobs in the solar industry," Higgins said on the House Floor. "Solar power accounted for 32 percent of electric-generating capacity that came on line in the United States last year, creating 31,000 American jobs.
"The energy company SolarCity will soon open one of the largest solar panel manufacturing plants in the world in my home community of Buffalo, New York, creating 3,500 jobs in our region.
"174,000 Americans work in the solar industry, a number that is quickly increasing. We should seize the opportunity to ensure that our veterans can participate in this growth.
"The Solar Ready Vets program trains veterans for jobs in the solar industry at 10 military bases across the country. We are calling for the Niagara Falls Air Reserve Station to be one of those sites. This program creates jobs, fights climate change and provides economic opportunity to our returning veterans.
"I call on Congress to support our veterans, support clean energy and support American jobs by supporting the Solar Ready Vets program."
The Solar Ready Vets initiative aims to train 75,000 solar workers, including veterans, by the year 2020.