Trump, California battle over climate and cause of fires

Trump, California battle over climate and cause of fires

President TrumpDonald John TrumpProtesters tear down statue of Christopher Columbus in Baltimore 'Independence Day' star Bill Pullman urges Americans to wear a 'freedom mask' in July 4 PSA Protesters burn American flag outside White House after Trump's July Fourth address MORE and California’s political leaders are engaging in a war of words over the cause of wildfires that have devastated the state, killing at least 31 people.

Gov. Jerry Brown (D) blamed climate change at a press conference Sunday, days after Trump blamed the state’s forest management programs.

“Managing all the forests everywhere we can does not stop climate change, and those who deny that definitely are contributing to the tragedies that we are witnessing and will continue to witness,” Brown said in remarks directed toward the president.

ADVERTISEMENT

Trump’s argument, that extensive logging and a change in California’s water practices could alleviate its fire problems, are regularly touted by Republicans who support logging industry groups out West as well as California GOP Reps. Kevin McCarthyKevin Owen McCarthyOn The Money: Breaking down the June jobs report | The biggest threats facing the recovery | What will the next stimulus bill include? McCarthy to offer bill withholding funds from states that don't protect statues McCarthy calls on Pelosi to condemn 'mob violence' after toppling of St. Junipero Serra statue MORE and Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesVoters must strongly reject the president's abuses by voting him out this November Sunday shows preview: With coronavirus cases surging, lawmakers and health officials weigh in Hillicon Valley: Democrats introduce bill banning federal government use of facial recognition tech | House lawmakers roll out legislation to establish national cyber director | Top federal IT official to step down MORE, who have long fought for more water access in their districts in California's Central Valley.

“There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor,” Trump tweeted late Friday, threatening to withhold federal funds even as firefighters in the state grappled with the blazes.

“Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!” Trump tweeted.

California lawmakers and fire experts quickly denounced Trump’s comments as partisan posturing.

“Lives have been lost. Entire towns have been burned to the ground. Cars abandoned on the side of the road. People are being forced to flee their homes. This is not a time for partisanship. This is a time for coordinating relief and response and lifting those in need up,” California Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom (D) tweeted.

Others pointed out that many of the fires scorching the state are not in fact burning in forests at all, but on hillsides near city centers and coastlines.

California’s Woolsey fire, for example, has burned nearly 100,000 acres in Ventura, Calabasas, Thousand Oaks and Malibu. It has burned through communities located mere miles from the ocean, in valleys growing more shrubs than trees.

“The president’s assertion that California’s forest management policies are to blame for catastrophic wildfire is dangerously wrong. Wildfires are sparked and spread not only in forested areas but in populated areas and open fields fueled by parched vegetation, high winds, low humidity and geography,” California Professional Firefighters President Brian Rice said in a statement Saturday.

Experts also said that a majority of the land where forest fires have devastated have taken place on land that is federally owned and managed.

“Moreover, nearly 60 percent of California forests are under federal management, and another one-third under private control. It is the federal government that has chosen to divert resources away from forest management, not California,” Rice said.

Trump’s budget has called for slashing funding for the U.S. Forest Service and firefighting, argued Rep. Ted LieuTed W. LieuMilley confirms soldiers deployed to DC amid unrest were given bayonets Trump campaign touts 4M online viewers for Tulsa rally Trump mocked for low attendance at rally MORE (D-Calif.).

“Dear @realDonaldTrump: What is wrong with you? Disaster victims deserve help & sympathy. Oh, and guess who owns much of the forest land in CA? Your federal agencies. CA only owns 2%. Guess who cut funding to forest management in the budget? YOU DID,” Lieu tweeted Saturday.

Trump’s sharp words created discomfort for some Republicans.

“I don't think it's appropriate to threaten funding,” Sen. Cory GardnerCory Scott GardnerTrump nominee faces Senate hurdles to securing public lands post The Hill's Campaign Report: Colorado, Utah primary results bring upsets, intrigue The Hill's Morning Report - Republicans shift, urge people to wear masks MORE (R-Colo.) said Sunday on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “That's not going to happen. Funding will be available. It always is available to our people wherever they are, whatever disaster they are facing.”

“California will receive the money they need,” Sen. Lindsey GrahamLindsey Olin GrahamJaime Harrison seeks to convince Democrats he can take down Lindsey Graham Hillicon Valley: Senate panel advances bill targeting online child sexual abuse | Trump administration awards tech group contract to build 'virtual' wall | Advocacy groups urge Congress to ban facial recognition technologies Senate panel advances bill targeting online child sexual abuse MORE (R-S.C.), increasingly seen as a close ally to Trump, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.”

“But going forward, we need to look at some of the underlying causes of these fires, and it's just not California we need to look at better forest management in,” he said.

The fires are likely to be a point of discussion for lawmakers returning to Washington on Tuesday for the first time since Democrats retook control of the House in the midterm elections. Congress is facing a Dec. 7 deadline to pass legislation to fund most of the government, and lawmakers could attach special disaster funding to that bill.

The new Congress will not take office until next year, but it could be led by two Californians: current House Minority Leader Nancy PelosiNancy PelosiOn The Money: Breaking down the June jobs report | The biggest threats facing the recovery | What will the next stimulus bill include? Military bases should not be renamed, we must move forward in the spirit of reconciliation Pelosi: Trump 'himself is a hoax' MORE (D) and McCarthy. It’s unclear how that new dynamic could change the federal government’s take on how to handle western wildfires.

A spokesman for Rep. Nita LoweyNita Sue LoweyNew York City will not start counting mailed primary ballots until next week Progressives zero in on another House chairman in primary The Hill's Campaign Report: New York congressional candidates set to make LGBTQ history MORE (N.Y.), the top Democrat on the House Appropriations Committee and its likely chairman when the party takes over in January, said the Democrats will insist on money for the wildfires and other recent natural disasters.

“Congress must build upon the down payment agreed in September by swiftly passing an emergency supplemental appropriations bill in the lame duck session that will assist the communities affected by Hurricane Florence, Hurricane Michael, Typhoon Yutu, and the wildfires burning throughout the West,” the spokesman said.

Blair Taylor, a spokesman for Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Richard ShelbyRichard Craig ShelbyFights over police reform, COVID-19 delay Senate appropriations markups Trump's push for major infrastructure bill faces GOP opposition Watchdogs express concern to lawmakers about ability to oversee coronavirus relief funds MORE (R-Ala.), left the door open for disaster funding for the wildfires, saying the panel's priority is the Dec. 7 funding deadline.

“As we set about that work, we will keep a close eye on this and other areas with a disaster declaration and remain in close contact with those states and the administration regarding need,” he said. 

Trump has for months pushed to increase forest management — often a euphemism for logging — as a way to fix California’s fires.

In October, he made a similar threat to cut funding to California. Speaking in an address to the White House State Leadership Day Conference, Trump blamed water resource management as another area where California failed.

“This is a seriously defective thing there. I thought they had a drought. I didn’t realize. They said ‘no, we have so much water we don’t know what to do with it.’ Then you have all the forest fires. We have so much water they could actually water some of it,” he said.

In fact, nearly 52 percent of California’s land — where about 63 percent of the state’s population lives — is experiencing a drought, according to the federal government’s National Integrated Drought Information System.

In August, Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senior Interior official contacted former employer, violating ethics pledge: watchdog | Ag secretary orders environmental rollbacks for Forest Service | Senate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Senior Interior official contacted former employer, violating ethics pledge: watchdog Overnight Energy: Trump officials may pursue offshore drilling after election, report says | Energy regulators to delay projects pending appeals | EPA union calls for 'moratorium' on reopening plans MORE and Agriculture Secretary Sonny PerdueGeorge (Sonny) Ervin PerdueOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Senior Interior official contacted former employer, violating ethics pledge: watchdog | Ag secretary orders environmental rollbacks for Forest Service | Senate advances public lands bill in late-night vote Ag secretary orders environmental rollbacks for Forest Service Justice Department investigating meat price increases: report MORE promoted increased logging during a California trip as a way to manage fires.

“I’ve heard the climate change argument back and forth. This has nothing to do with climate change. This has to do with active forest management,” Zinke told Sacramento station KCRA at the time.

In an USA Today op-ed that coincided with the trip, Zinke blamed “radical environmentalists” who would “rather see forests and communities burn than see a logger in the woods.”