President Trump — again — initially offered not condolences but admonishment, accusing California on Twitter Saturday of “gross mismanagement of the forests." Trump threatened to withhold federal payments to California as parts of the state are still consumed in flames and as his administration issued an emergency declaration to provide additional resources to help fight the fires.
"Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!" Trump added.
But Senate Republicans, who are in charge of any change to government funding, on Sunday were not willing to echo the president’s threat against the nation’s most populous state.
“I don't think it's appropriate to threaten funding,” Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) said 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.”
Trump ally and Sen. Lindsay Graham (R-S.C.) agreed that now is not the time to talk about curtailing funding for any state -- even if, as he said, the federal and state forest officials need to take a more aggressive approach to clearing underbrush to reduce fire risk.
“California will receive the money they need,” Graham 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 added: “Now is not time to talk about cutting off money.”
The remarks from the pair of GOP senators underscores the degree to which congressional Republicans have been willing to buck the White House on energy and environmental budget issues.
Both parties in Congress have twice rejected proposals from the White House’s Office of Budget and Management to ax funding for federal agencies involved in forestry policy, including the U.S. Forest Service and Interior Department.
Earlier this year, Congress agreed to provide new disaster relief money for wildfires so that the Forest Service no longer had to siphon money from other accounts to pay for fire suppression. Members of both parties saw the practice of “fire borrowing” as leading to a vicious cycle that left accounts for fire prevention programs dry.
But Trump has continued to press California on its fire management since the height of fire season this summer, when Trump claimed that blazes in the state were being “made so much worse by the bad environmental laws.”
Trump’s critics see his stream of incendiary comments as not only a rebuke to a state that voted against him by a nearly 2-to-1 margin in 2016 but as a pretext for promoting forestry policy favored by Western logging companies and water policy favored by Central Valley farmers.
Officials in California also pushed back against the president’s claim that state policy is to blame for wildfires. The office of Gov. Jerry Brown (D) told The Washington Post that more federal forest land has burned than state land.
And Brian Rice, president of the California Professional Firefighters, issued a scathing statement saying the “president’s message attacking California and threatening to withhold aid to the victims of the cataclysmic fires is ill-informed, ill-timed and demeaning to those who are suffering as well as the men and women on the front lines.”
Rice added: "It is the federal government that has chosen to divert resources away from forest management, not California."
For its part, the Pasadena Fire Association called the president’s assessment “wrong”:
Finally later on Saturday, the president issued tweets urging Californians to follow evacuation orders and offering sympathy for those affected by the fires.
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— More on California's fires: The Camp Fire in Northern California was already the most destructive individual wildfire in the state’s history by the weekend. On Sunday night, authorities said 228 people were still reported missing. The deadly blaze was just 25 percent contained by Sunday, The Post’s Joel Achenbach and Cleve R. Wootson Jr. report. There were two more blazes expanding in Southern California, with 200,000 displaced by the expanding Woolsey Fire that had burned 83,000 acres and another, the Hill Fire, was racing just west of Thousand Oaks.
Strong Santa Ana winds blew through Southern California on Sunday, fanning the Woolsey fire, ending a “one-day lull” of the winds, according to the Associated Press, adding “authorities warned that the gusts would continue through Tuesday.”
Students at Pepperdine University in Malibu sheltered in place on Friday as the blaze closed in, The Post’s Susan Svrluga reports. “Some students left campus despite the shelter-in-place order,” she added. “Many people were reassuring worried parents and students that the campus was well prepared for this type of threat, with huge tanks full of water and students sheltered far from the burning chaparral, or shrub land.”
— How do wildfires such as the Woolsey Fire in Southern California and Camp Fire in the north intensify so severely?: “It began with scant rainfall and abnormally warm temperatures which parched the landscape and created tinderbox conditions,” The Post’s Matthew Cappucci and Jason Samenow report. “Then came howling winds that fanned the flames, once the fires were sparked. And, in an environment of rising temperatures, climate change is amplifying their potential intensity.” They add that California’s fire season usually ends in November or December when wintertime rains arrive, “but this fall, hot and dry weather has persisted longer, and the rains have yet to come — fitting into a trend that is potentially expanding and intensifying wildfire season.”
— Hurricane Michael even more violent that previously thought: Eleven days after the devastating storm plowed through Mexico Beach, Fla., technicians for the U.S. Geological Survey found a barometer that had been deployed prior to the storm. “Using data from that instrument and another sensor that had been nailed to a pier piling, the USGS on Thursday concluded the storm surge at Mexico Beach had reached 15.55 feet, half a foot higher than the previous estimate,” The Post’s Achenbach, Samenow and Kevin Begos report. “If you add the waves on top of the surge, the water level here reached 20.6 feet, or close to the height of a two-story building … That’s what people in the hurricane business call ‘The Big One.’ The term has nothing to do with physical scale — Michael was average-sized. But it was unusually violent, among the four most-intense hurricanes to hit the mainland United States since records began in 1851.”
— Future of beachfront town at risk: In a town that felt like the “antidote to the mascot-branded Floridian commercialism,” as The Post’s Robert Samuels describes Mexico Beach, change seems inevitable post-Michael for those who didn’t want it. “Residents now fear developers will buy out desperate property owners and build high-rises and golf courses that would change the community’s character,” Samuels writes. “Such revivals happened in Mississippi beach cities wounded after Hurricane Katrina in 2005 … Nearly a month after Hurricane Michael, Mayor Al Cathey said that his town is trying to remain optimistic … No one has yet to do an estimate of damage, Cathey said, and no one has any practical idea of what redevelopment plans might look like.”
— Zinke inquiry: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has been identified by the White House to be the Cabinet member most vulnerable to be investigated by a Democratic House majority starting next year, The Post’s Juliet Eilperin, Lisa Rein and Josh Dawsey report. The secretary has already been the subject of 15 investigations (with nine already closed). “The new assessment comes as President Trump is weighing whether to dismiss Zinke, according to the officials,” they report. “Trump has told aides he will make a decision next week after he returns from Paris.”
What Trump is saying: Trump on Friday answered “no” when asked whether he would fire Zinke, but quickly added, “I’m going to look into any complaints.”
What Congress is saying: Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), slated to take the gavel of the House Natural Resources Committee next year, said he and his colleagues want the interior secretary to provide answers on several fronts. “This is our check and balance, our constitutional obligation and our jurisdiction,” he added.
— Trump’s trade war may have helped Democrats: In the fight to win back the House, Democratic candidates looked to leverage frustration about Trump’s trade policies, The Post’s Jeff Stein reports. In Minnesota’s 2nd congressional district, for example, Republicans lost in part after the Democratic candidate campaigned on how trade policies hurt the district’s farmers. “In Senate races, most Democrats who tried running on those sentiments lost,” he writes. “But in House races, such candidates fared much better and may have even helped swing control of the chamber to Democrats, underscoring the mixed political ramifications of one of the administration’s key economic policies."
— Virginia regulators balk at voting on pipeline permit affecting historic African American community: Air pollution regulators in Virginia unexpectedly halted voting on a permit for a natural gas pumping facility in Union Hill, a historical African American community, after the regulators raised “questions about how environmental justice issues were considered in the state’s review of the project,” The Post’s Gregory Schneider reports. The facility is a necessary part of the $6 billion Atlantic Coast Pipeline. “Members of the Union Hill community, many of whom are descendants of enslaved workers or free black families who settled there before the Civil War, have accused the builders of imposing the project on an area where many residents are older, low-income and minorities,” Schneider reports. He wrote “scores of residents” showed up during a two-day meeting of the Air Pollution Control Board to “speak against the facility.”
— Oil watch: Saudi Arabia and other crude producers are coming closer to a deal to reduce output as a result of dropping oil prices and “signs of a coming global oversupply,” the Wall Street Journal reports. Saudi Arabia, Russia and others met over the weekend to debate supply reductions after producers agreed to boost production in June over concerns that U.S. sanctions on Iran would lead to shortages. “Saudi representatives said Sunday that the kingdom would slash its exports unilaterally next month, as a broader OPEC alliance debated — but didn’t agree to — a collective production cut,” per the Journal. “Meanwhile, Russia, the world’s largest producer, sent mixed signals on whether it would pull back on supply — after moving in lockstep on such matters with OPEC for more than two years.”
- Brookings Institution holds a panel discussion on Indian oil and gas strategies in a new age on Tuesday.
- The Heritage Foundation holds an event on challenges and solutions to improve federal lands management on Wednesday.
- The Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee will hold a hearing on Rita Baranwal to be an Assistant Secretary of Energy (Nuclear Energy), Bernard L. McNamee to be a member of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission and Raymond David Vela to be Director of the National Park Service on Thursday.
- The American Council on Renewable Energy, Solar Energy Industries Association and Energy Innovation hold an event on the outlook for clean energy following the 2018 midterms on Friday.
— Driving through the fire: A dad sang to his young daughter in the back seat as he drove through nightmarish flames to escape from the raging Camp Fire in Northern California, as The Post’s Michael Brice-Saddler reports.