From the Wonk Room.
“Thousands more people have been forced to flee their homes as strong winds drive fierce wildfires” fueled by “temperatures in the 90s, dry air and wind gusts as high as 40 miles per hour” in California, now in a state of emergency.
“Climate change is the greatest strategic risk facing property and casualty insurers”: Studies conducted in the last few years have demonstrated that “global warming is causing wildfires in the Western U.S. to occur more frequently, last longer, and cover more ground than they did in the past,” and “more and more severe wildfires will raise insurance rates, too.”
“An unusually warm spring thaw in Alaska is causing some of the state’s worst flooding in decades, with rising rivers wiping out an entire village,” forcing Gov. Sarah Palin (R-AK) to declare a disaster for the flooded areas and to cancel her attendance at the White House Correspondents’ Dinner.
From the Wonk Room.
As a wildfire in Myrtle Beach on the South Carolina coast “spread over thousands of acres by early Friday” and a “7,500-acre-plus blaze” raged in South Florida, scientists reported that “wildfires spur climate change, which in turn makes blazes bigger, more frequent and more damaging to the environment.”
Rep. Gene Green (D-TX), who “represents a district with several oil refineries, a huge source of greenhouse gas emissions, said about the Waxman-Markey clean energy bill, “they have to get our votes, and I’m not going to vote for a bill without refinery allowances.”
Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY), a prominent coal industry advocate, asked administration nominees whether they agreed with comments this week by Jon Wellinghoff, chairman of the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, that no new nuclear or coal plants may ever be needed in the United States.
From the Wonk Room.
Wildfires fueled by “high winds and bone-dry conditions” raged through Oklahoma and Texas, burning over 200,000 acres of land. In Texas, the fires destroyed two towns and killed three people, while in Oklahoma, “losses from wildfires could reach $20 million dollars.”
Michigan officials “announced investments in four new operations that would employ several thousand workers” in advanced battery production collectively worth about $1.7 billion. The projects “illustrate the state’s burgeoning hold on the vehicle battery production market.”
- Robin Nazzaro, director for natural resources and the environment, GAO
- Phyllis Fong, inspector general,Agriculture Department
House appropriators will delve into the state of the Forest Service on Wednesday, likely focusing on the escalating cost of wildfires and the agency’s fire management plans.
The session is one in a series of pre-budget hearings designed to get assessments and input from federal watchdogs on the operation of agencies overseen by the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee.
One inescapable topic is how to fix the Forest Service’s budget problems due to wildfire costs. In recent years, the agency has run out of firefighting money and had to transfer hundreds of millions from its other programs to cover the wildfire costs, causing major disruptions to its other priorities.
The Obama administration wants to create a new contingent reserve fund for catastrophic wildfires. The fund would be tapped only if federal agencies exhaust regularly budgeted money for wildfires, which would continue to be fully funded based on the 10-year average cost of fire suppression.
The discretionary reserve fund would include $75 million for Interior agencies and $282 million for the Forest Service for firefighting. The fund would be tapped into after the $1.1 billion appropriated 10-year average runs out.
From the Wonk Room.
In a weekend interview with ABC’s George Stephanopoulos, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger (R-CA) talks of the impact of global warming on California’s wildfires. Climate change is lowering snowpack in the Rockies and increasing droughts, heat waves and lightning strikes, stoking more intense fires over a longer season:
Through global warming, we have now fire season all year round. We used to have fire seasons only in the fall, but now the fire seasons start in February already, so this means that we have to really upgrade, have more resources, more fire engines, more manpower and all of this, which does cost extra money.Watch it:
By May of this year wildfires were raging at levels traditionally seen only in July. After California’s driest spring in 114 years of recordkeeping, 1700 wildfires set a record 840,000 acres ablaze from June to July, costing the state more than $200 million. Fires in the past month, the worst in the Los Angeles area in four decades, have destroyed over 1000 homes. “Through last week, 1.24 million acres burned in California, the most since 1970, when consistent, modern records were first kept.”
Last month, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) called for the Bush administration to end delays in assistance, saying, “As the climate warms and wildland fires become bigger and more intense, a rapid response is critical to prevent the spread of fires.”
The House Natural Resources Committee, led by Chairman Nick J. Rahall (D-WV), will meet in open markup session to mark up the following bills:
- H.R. 5541 (Rahall): To provide a supplemental funding source for catastrophic emergency wildland fire suppression activities on Department of the Interior and National Forest System lands, to require the Secretary of the Interior and the Secretary of Agriculture to develop a cohesive wildland fire management strategy, and for other purposes. “Federal Land Assistance, Management and Enhancement Act or FLAME Act”
- H.R. 3522 (T. Udall): To ratify a conveyance of a portion of the Jicarilla Apache Reservation to Rio Arriba County, State of New Mexico, pursuant to the settlement of litigation between the Jicarilla Apache Nation and Rio Arriba County, State of New Mexico, to authorize issuance of a patent for said lands, and to change the exterior boundary of the Jicarilla Apache Reservation accordingly, and for other purposes.
- S. 2457 (Lieberman): A bill to provide for extensions of leases of certain land by Mashantucket Pequot (Western) Tribe.
- H.R. 1575 (Stupak): To reaffirm and clarify the Federal relationship of the Burt Lake Band as a distinct federally recognized Indian Tribe, and for other purposes. “Burt Lake Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians Reaffirmation Act”
- H.R. 3490 (Radanovich): To transfer administrative jurisdiction of certain Federal lands from the Bureau of Land Management to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, to take such lands into trust for Tuolumne Band of Me-Wuk Indians of the Tuolumne Rancheria, and for other purposes. “Tuolumne Me-Wuk Land Transfer Act of 2007”
The agency’s fire suppression efforts would get a $148 million increase – to just under $1 billion – under the plan, a total based on the 10-year average of fire suppression costs. Last year, the Forest Service spent $1.4 billion fighting fires, the National Interagency Fire Center said.Witness
The Bush administration budget proposal would provide $297 million for projects to reduce hazardous fuels, down from $310 million in fiscal 2008. Fire preparedness would fall to $588 million from $666 million in fiscal 2008.
Several lawmakers last week slammed the proposed budget, saying it overemphasizes firefighting at the cost of fire prevention and forest restoration. . . Kimbell will be the sole witness before House appropriators on Wednesday. The chairman of the Interior subcommittee, Rep. Norm Dicks (D-Wash.), was also highly critical of the agency’s proposed budget cuts.
The Forest Legacy Program, which helps conserve threatened private forests, would be reduced $40 million, to $12.5 million. The budget would also eliminate $40 million that Dicks placed in the fiscal 2008 budget for road decommissioning and reclamation.
“The Forest Service has just gotten crushed,” Dicks said in an interview last week. “It’s cut 16 percent … and they don’t have enough money over there to do the trail work, the road work, the forestry with the states, the conservation.”
- Abigail R. Kimbell, Chief, U.S. Forest Service
The Select Committee on Energy Independence & Global Warming will hold a hearing on Thursday, November 1, at 9:30 a.m. in room TBD. The hearing is entitled, “Wildfires and the Climate Crisis.” Witnesses will be by invitation only.
In an effort to expand the dialogue around this issue, I am seeking ideas, thoughts and questions prior to the hearing. Please have a look at the hearing information below and then post your thoughts in the comment section of this blog. Time for Q&A is limited during Congressional hearings, but I ]will read all posts beforehand in an effort to inject your ideas into this important debate.
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