Pelosi urges Trump to expand disaster relief for California wildfires

Pelosi urges Trump to expand disaster relief for California wildfires
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House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy Patricia D'Alesandro PelosiDem lawmakers slam Trump’s declassification of Russia documents as ‘brazen abuse of power’ Russia probe accelerates political prospects for House Intel Dems Pelosi calls on Ryan to bring long-term Violence Against Women Act to floor MORE (D-Calif.) is pushing President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: I hope voters pay attention to Dem tactics amid Kavanaugh fight South Korea leader: North Korea agrees to take steps toward denuclearization Graham calls handling of Kavanaugh allegations 'a drive-by shooting' MORE for more federal help to fight California’s raging wildfires, including taking new steps to combat climate change trends that experts say have exacerbated this year’s crisis.

Trump signed an emergency declaration over the weekend for federal help in battling the Carr Fire in Northern California, which has already destroyed nearly 170,000 acres and killed seven people.

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Pelosi on Tuesday hailed the move as “an important first step.” But with a second group of fires, known as the Mendocino Complex, now raging even larger, Pelosi wants the president to expand the relief to other hard-hit areas of the state. Gov. Jerry Brown (D) has asked the administration to do just that.

“The Administration’s Major Disaster Declaration for Shasta County takes an important first step to combat this disaster, but the President must expand this declaration to the other counties ravaged by wildfires, as Governor Brown has requested,” Pelosi said in a statement.

“The Administration also must start taking real, urgent action to combat the threat of the climate crisis, which is making the wildfire season longer, more expensive and more destructive.”

California is in the midst of its annual wildfire season, and the state has faced a series of remarkably destructive blazes this year.

The Carr Fire, which has burned almost 1,100 residences, is only 47 percent contained, according to Cal Fire, the state fire agency. And the Mendocino Complex, consisting of a pair of fires burning northwest of Sacramento, has grown in recent days to encompass more than 290,000 acres — the largest wildfire in modern state history. The largest of the Mendocino Complex, the Ranch Fire, is only 20 percent contained, Cal Fire reported Tuesday.

Trump over the weekend jumped head-first into the wildfire debate when he accused Brown and California Democrats of compounding the crisis with environmental policies that have caused “vast amounts of water [to be] foolishly diverted into the Pacific Ocean.”  

“California wildfires are being magnified & made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amount of readily available water to be properly utilized,” Trump tweeted late Sunday.

The message was widely ridiculed by state water experts, who quickly sought to discredit the claim.

"The only water that reaches the ocean these days is what's left AFTER the massive diversions OUT of our rivers for cities and farms. And there's no shortage of fire-fighting water,” Peter Gleick, a water and climate expert at the Pacific Institute, tweeted Monday.

"Nuts."

The federal relief allocated so far through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) is targeted largely for fighting the fires, not repairing damages to government infrastructure and personal property, which have yet to be assessed.

Rep. John GaramendiJohn Raymond GaramendiOvernight Defense: Mattis dismisses talk he may be leaving | Polish president floats 'Fort Trump' | Dem bill would ban low-yield nukes Dems introduce bill to ban low-yield nukes Trump is wrong, Dems are fighting to save Medicare and Social Security MORE (D-Calif.), who represents a district impacted by the Mendocino Complex, identified a barrier to securing federal funds: Many of the structures typically destroyed by wildfires in his district are mobile homes and other low-value residences, which often times don’t add up to meet the threshold for winning the maximum federal assistance.

With that in mind, Garamendi said lawmakers in the affected areas want to combine the damage assessments from the various fires in order to hit those numbers and assure the additional federal help.

“For the individual, they’re devastated. Their home is gone, even though it had little value and was probably paid off 30 or 40 years ago,” Garamendi told The Hill last week. “So by combining the three fires — which is not new, we did that three years ago — we may be able to rise to a sufficient value that the individual assistance would [kick in].”

It’s unclear if Congress will need to step in with emergency funding when lawmakers return to Washington next month. FEMA currently has more than $20 billion in its disaster relief fund through the remainder of the fiscal year, which ends Sept. 30, and an additional $7 billion will become available on Oct. 1

Even Garamendi predicted there will be adequate funding through the normal appropriations process, precluding the need for a supplemental funding bill that could get bogged down in an election-year fight over deficit spending.

“The fight for the issue of the deficit, while it will be discuss with the deficit hawks … will not be terribly relevant in the current appropriations process,” he said. But he also warned that there’s no way to know what other natural disasters might hit the country, sapping FEMA funds, between now and October.

“We get a big hurricane or we burn down Los Angeles or San Fernando Valley or something, then we’re back to the … supplemental,” he said.