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Trump, California battle over climate and cause of fires

Trump, California battle over climate and cause of fires

President TrumpDonald John TrumpObama slams Trump in Miami: 'Florida Man wouldn't even do this stuff' Trump makes his case in North Carolina, Ohio and Wisconsin Pence's chief of staff tests positive for COVID-19 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.

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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 McCarthyRocky Mountain National Park closed due to expanding Colorado wildfire Trump is out of touch with Republican voters on climate change The Hill's Morning Report - Sponsored by Goldman Sachs - Iran, Russia election bombshell; final Prez debate tonight MORE and Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesTrump pushing to declassify document disputing intel findings on Russia: report Sunday shows preview: Coronavirus cases surge in the Midwest; Trump hits campaign trail after COVID-19 Democrat Arballo gains on Nunes: internal poll 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. LieuPelosi suggests Trump setting 'dangerous' example with quick return to White House The spin on Woodward's tapes reveals the hypocrisy of Democrats Larry Kudlow defends response to coronavirus: Trump 'led wisely' 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 expressed doubt to donors GOP can hold Senate: report The Hill's Campaign Report: 2020 spending wars | Biden looks to clean up oil comments | Debate ratings are in Democrats seek to block appeal of court ruling ousting Pendley, BLM land plans 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 GrahamTrump expressed doubt to donors GOP can hold Senate: report Sunday shows preview: Trump, Biden gear up for final sprint to Election Day Lou Dobbs goes after Lindsey Graham: 'I don't know why anyone' would vote for him  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 PelosiTrump expressed doubt to donors GOP can hold Senate: report Senators battle over Supreme Court nominee in rare Saturday session Sunday shows preview: Trump, Biden gear up for final sprint to Election Day 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 LoweyFinger-pointing picks up in COVID-19 relief fight Top House Democrats call for watchdog probe into Pompeo's Jerusalem speech With Biden, advocates sense momentum for lifting abortion funding ban 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 ShelbyFinger-pointing picks up in COVID-19 relief fight On The Money: GOP cool to White House's .6T coronavirus price tag | Company layoffs mount as pandemic heads into fall | Initial jobless claims drop to 837,000 GOP cool to White House's .6T coronavirus price tag 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 Zinke5 major ways that Interior slashed protections for wildlife  Trump extends Florida offshore drilling pause, expands it to Georgia, South Carolina Conspicuous by their absence from the Republican Convention MORE and Agriculture Secretary Sonny PerdueGeorge (Sonny) Ervin PerdueFederal judge strikes down Trump's cuts on food stamps for unemployed EU's 'farm to fork' demands could mean indigestion for US food exporters Baldwin calls for Senate hearing on CDC response to meatpacking plant coronavirus outbreak 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.”