Get out your rakes. President Trump is attacking California's forest fire management again.
Wildfire season is almost here and, in an ongoing effort to make sure California is punished each and every day for not being a handmaiden to the daily calamity in Washington, Trump's Department of Agriculture and the U.S. Forest Service are playing games with California's firefighting budget. They're trying to violate the California Fire Assistance Agreement, known as the CFAA, which doesn't expire until 2020, according to a story by McClatchy DC's Emily Cadei.
The five-year agreement calls for the federal government to reimburse California for firefighting costs, most of which are incurred by already-overextended volunteer firefighting agencies, and many of which are in California's more conservative areas.
An audit by the Forest Service asserts that there may have been "overbilling" by local fire agencies, but the smoke in the air isn't from fires, it's from politics.
A signed agreement is a signed agreement. Unless, of course, you're a prominent New York real estate developer accustomed to stiffing contractors. The unnecessary delay in payments to California could be devastating.
The potential delay so concerned Sen. Dianne Feinstein that she wrote to Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who oversees the Forest Service, and USFS Chief Vicky Christensen, calling upon the agency to fix the problem.
"Around 60% of forested land in California is owned by the federal government," wrote Feinstein on May 14. "Wildfires don't stop at jurisdictional boundaries, so a unified federal-state approach is the only way to properly protect lives and property."
She called for the CFAA to be honored as written.
President Trump has made clear his view of California fires and how the government should respond.
He briefly tried to appear helpful, appearing in a photo op in Paradise (which he called "Pleasure") and glad-handing then-Gov. Jerry Brown and Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom. But he's mostly tweeted such gems as: "There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor. 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!"
In fact, the feds are in arrears themselves to California for fire payments. The federal government still owes $9.3 million to local fire agencies for their work in 2018, according to the Governor's Office of Emergency Services. Major California fire organizations wrote a joint letter calling the contract changes "unilateral." State Fire and Rescue Chief Brian Marshall warned that if the CFAA expires, it "would have a devastating effect on the California wildfire system."
President Trump's rhetorical arson not only hurts California, but may help torch what's left of his support in GOP-held congressional districts, such as the state's 1st Congressional District, represented by Rep. Doug LaMalfa (R-Oroville), where the Paradise fire happened.
Certainly, LaMalfa might have some sway with the president, who seems to be obsessed yet again with punishing California for being politically irretrievable for the GOP.
Victims of California's devastating infernos deserve better than nitpicky bookkeeping and petty spats.
The Forest Service and the Trump Administration must honor their promises and let the CFAA run its course until 2020, when the American people can decide whether they want to continue the Trump administration's flame war on California.
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