A day after California Governor Jerry Brown declared a wildfire state of emergency, the President’s Science Adviser John Holdren appeared in a video linking increased wildfires in the U.S. West to human-caused climate change. In response to urgent calls for additional funds to fight expanding wildfire disasters, congressional Republicans stonewalled, then left town for five weeks, while the West continues to burn. Thus they combined global warming denialism on behalf of the energy interests they front for, blanket opposition to even the most reasonable White House proposals, and continued undermining of the basic public safety net functions of government. John Holdren on wildfires and climate change:
White House Chief Science Adviser: Wildfires Are Linked To Climate Change at Climate Progress:
Specifically, the length of U.S. fire seasons has expanded by 60 to 80 days since the 1980s, and the amount of acres consumed by wildfires each year has doubled to more than seven million. This year’s fire season is on track to drain the $1.4 billion Congress allocated to fight wildfires well before the season is actually over, leaving the U.S. Forest Service and other departments about $400 billion short by most estimates. That will force them to engage in what’s called “fire borrowing” — pulling funds away from other activities like regular thinning of forest and brush, and controlled burns that reduce the number and severity of wildfires. This is something the Forest Service has had to do for seven of the last twelve years.
Democrats in the House and Senate, along with the White House, are pushing bills that would open up more funding for wildfire fighting. But the House GOP has ignored the bills, and now that Congress has left for vacation the issue is in limbo.
Hard-hitting post by RL Miller at Daily Kos: Kings of the ashes: Republicans refuse to fight climate-fueled wildfires
Overlooked among the chaos of last week’s border bill fiasco: Republicans rejected aid to fight climate-fueled wildfires, and the social contract frays a bit more.
Tuesday, the House denied President Obama’s request for wildfire funding, contained within the border bill, entirely. Obama requested $659 million to deal with an unusually strong wildfire season with an estimated price tag of $1.8 billion. The House’s allocation in response: zero….
Thursday, Senate Republicans blocked wildfire aid again, both in the border bill and in a separate standalone bill. President Obama requested $615 million to help fight Western wildfires. Senator John Cornyn R-TX) objected, Senator Tom Coburn (R-OK) demanded cuts elsewhere, stating that “I also want to make sure our children have a future,” and that was the end of that.
The House did manage to find $35 million to beef up border patrols, because what’s more scary: refugee children wanting a better life in America or thousands upon thousands of acres burning to a crisp in the tinderbox of drought-stricken California?
And so Congress heads into a scorching hot August recess having done nothing about wildfires ravaging near districts of Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), David Valadao (R-CA), and other Western members of the House Appropriations Committee. Yes, the same Kevin McCarthy who bashes Obama’s climate agenda while ignoring California’s drought. …
[W]e’re seeing the beginning of a deeper shift. Firefighting should be one of the most basic functions of government, a paradigm example of why citizens organize and tax themselves. …
Admitting that this is a bad year for wildfire would be a tacit admission that they and their donors Exxon and Peabody Coal have lit the match of California. This budget skirmish is the beginning of an ugly spectacle in which Republicans will refuse to spend money on climate change adaptation, even if it means abandoning the social contract of basic government services.
MONEY ALLOCATED FOR FIGHTING FIRES TO RUN OUT (Associated Press, August 5):
WASHINGTON (AP) — The U.S. Forest Service will soon have to scale back some projects designed to help prevent wildfires so that it can meet the expenses of fighting this summer’s round of fires.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said Tuesday that about $400 million to $500 million in projects will have to be put on hold in what has become a routine exercise toward the end of the fiscal year. He predicted that the money set aside strictly for firefighting will run out by the end of August.
“When we begin to run out of money we have to dip into the very programs that will reduce the risk of these fires over time,” Vilsack said in a telephone interview with the Associated Press.
Some 30 large fires are burning their way through federal and state forests in California, Oregon, Washington and Idaho. …
Southwest: Increased warming, drought, and insect outbreaks, all caused by or linked to climate change, have increased wildfires and impacts to people and ecosystems in the Southwest. Fire models project more wildfire and increased risks to communities across extensive areas.
Northwest: The combined impacts of increasing wildfire, insect outbreaks, and tree diseases are already causing widespread tree die-off and are virtually certain to cause additional forest mortality by the 2040s and long-term transformation of forest landscapes.
Kevin Trenberth on US wildfires, drought, and global warming (July 2, 2012)