Trump, California battle over climate and cause of fires

Trump, California battle over climate and cause of fires

President TrumpDonald John TrumpButtigieg surges ahead of Iowa caucuses Biden leads among Latino Democrats in Texas, California Kavanaugh hailed by conservative gathering in first public speech since confirmation 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 McCarthyMcCarthy says views on impeachment won't change even if Taylor's testimony is confirmed House Republicans call impeachment hearing 'boring,' dismiss Taylor testimony as hearsay The Hill's Morning Report - Diplomats kick off public evidence about Trump, Ukraine MORE and Devin NunesDevin Gerald NunesOvernight Defense: Trump hosts Erdoğan at White House | Says Turkish leader has 'great relationship with the Kurds' | Highlights from first public impeachment hearing GOP zeroes in on alleged Ukraine meddling during impeachment testimony The Hill's 12:30 Report: Democrats open televised impeachment hearings 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. LieuWyden urges FCC to secure 5G networks against cyber threats Democrat hits White House spokeswoman after Trump appointee changes testimony PETA asks DOJ to stop conducting training that harms animals 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 GardnerTariffs threaten 1.5M jobs: Study This week: House kicks off public phase of impeachment inquiry Progressive veterans group launches campaign labeling Trump as a 'national security threat' 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 GrahamGOP eager for report on alleged FBI surveillance abuse Johnson opens door to subpoenaing whistleblower, Schiff, Bidens Overnight Defense: Erdoğan gets earful from GOP senators | Amazon to challenge Pentagon cloud contract decision in court | Lawmakers under pressure to pass benefits fix for military families 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 knocks testimony from 'Never Trumpers' at Louisiana rally Jordan calls Pelosi accusing Trump of bribery 'ridiculous' USMCA deal close, but not 'imminent,' Democrats say 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 LoweyOn The Money: Trump appeals to Supreme Court to keep tax returns from NY prosecutors | Pelosi says deal on new NAFTA 'imminent' | Mnuchin downplays shutdown threat | Trump hits Fed after Walmart boasts strong earnings Lawmakers aim for agreement on top-line spending by next week White House prepared to support December CR 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 ShelbyOn The Money: Trump appeals to Supreme Court to keep tax returns from NY prosecutors | Pelosi says deal on new NAFTA 'imminent' | Mnuchin downplays shutdown threat | Trump hits Fed after Walmart boasts strong earnings Overnight Health Care: Cigarette smoking rates at new low | Spread of vaping illness slowing | Dems in Congress push to block Trump abortion rule Lawmakers aim for agreement on top-line spending by next week 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: Senate eyes nixing 'forever chemicals' fix from defense bill | Former Obama EPA chief named CEO of green group | Senate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics Senate reviews Interior, FERC nominees criticized on ethics Overnight Energy: Perry to step down as Energy secretary | Future of big-game hunting council up in the air | Dems lose vote against EPA power plant rule MORE and Agriculture Secretary Sonny PerdueGeorge (Sonny) Ervin PerdueFrom state agriculture departments to Congress: Our farmers need the USMCA Overnight Energy: Trump administration issues plan to reverse limits on logging in Tongass National Forest| Democrats inch closer to issuing subpoenas for Interior, EPA records| Trump's plan to boost ethanol miffs corn groups and the fossil fuel industry Trump administration issues plan to reverse limits on logging in Tongass National Forest 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.”