Trump meets with Newsom as Western states burn

Sacramento: He blames onslaught of blazes on ‘forest management’; Biden calls him ‘climate arsonist’

By John Woolfolk and Emily DeRuy | Bay Area News Group

SACRAMENTO » California’s plight took center stage Monday in the race for the White House as President Donald Trump visited the Golden State in the midst of an epic wildfire season that has ravaged Western states, blaming “forest management” and discarding a warning that a warming planet is making the fires worse.

“It will start getting cooler,” Trump told California officials during a briefing on the wildfires in Sacramento. “You just watch.”

Meanwhile, in a speech from his home state of Delaware, Joe Biden, the Democratic nominee and former vice president, said Monday that Trump’s refusal to accept and address climate change is intensifying fires and other disasters such as another hurricane barreling toward the Gulf Coast.

“If you give a climate arsonist four more years in the White House, why would anyone be surprised if we have more of America ablaze?” Biden said, as California Sen. Kamala Harris, his vice presidential running mate, headed to her home state to assess the destruction.

The dueling visions of what’s behind the myriad catastrophes were on display as Trump touched down in Sacramento to meet with Gov. Gavin Newsom and other fire officials before honoring

President Donald Trump listens as Gov. Gavin Newsom discusses wildfires during a briefing near Sacramento on Monday. When Newsom referred to climate change, Trump responded, “It will start getting cooler. You just watch.”  ANDREW HARNIK — THE ASSOCIATED PRESS

National Guard personnel who rescued 242 campers trapped over Labor Day weekend by the Creek fire. That blaze south of Yosemite National Park is one of dozens in California that have killed 24 people and burned a record 3.1 million acres, even before the traditional heart of wildfire season begins next month.

Supporters and protesters gathered outside McClellan Park, site of an Air Force base that closed in 2003, where Trump touched down “to pay our respects” to those who lost their lives in the fires.

He dodged questions about whether climate change is affecting the state, saying, “I think this is more of a management situation” that requires more cutting and the removal of years of leaves and fallen trees “that become like a matchstick” and “explode.”

The president said he acted quickly to declare an emergency and speed federal aid to California, and he lauded Newsom, who has been careful not to alienate Trump through the coronavirus pandemic.

“I want to thank the governor for the job he’s done,” Trump said. “We actually have a very good relationship. He’s a good man.”

Newsom and many of the state fire and emergency officials wore filter masks as a coronavirus precaution during Monday’s wildfire meeting, while the president, sitting alone at the center of the gathering, did not. In one of the most telling exchanges during the meeting, Newsom told the president that 24 people have died and 44,000 have been evacuated because of the fires.

“We come from a perspective humbly … that climate change is real and that is exacerbating this,” Newsom told Trump. “Please respect the difference of opinion out here when it comes to climate change.”

“Absolutely,” Trump responded.

When California Natural Resources Secretary Wade Crowfoot insisted the federal government needed to recognize climate change’s role in recent record-setting temperatures — 130 degrees in Death Valley, 121 in greater L.A., Trump responded, “It will start getting cooler. You just watch.”

“I wish science agreed with you,” Crowfoot told the president.

“I don’t think science knows, actually,” Trump said.

The fires have injected forest management and climate change into the burning- hot 2020 presidential race, which is at its peak but mostly being fought in battleground states in the Midwest and East, with the West Coast expected to vote solidly Democratic.

“Both Donald Trump and Joe Biden would like to see the problem addressed but also recognize political opportunities that the fires present for them,” said Dan Schnur, a political scientist at the University of Southern California.

“Trump gets to play the role of concerned commander in chief today, and then he can go back to other parts of the country to ridicule California to his most loyal supporters. Biden gets the chance to reinforce his climate-change credentials to swing voters and also to paint Trump as uncaring and out of touch.”

After the briefing, the governor headed to Butte County, one of dozens of active fire areas in California, Oregon and Washington. The California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection said five of the state’s largest fires on record have burned this year, many triggered by a freak lightning storm and “extreme weather conditions.”

Asked at a news conference in Oroville what message was conveyed at the briefing, Newsom said he stated “in a way that wasn’t trying to take a cheap shot, wasn’t trying to score political points, but to make the argument, we believe in climate change out here.”

“We don’t believe it just because science says it: We observe it, we experience it, and that was an opportunity to remind him of a point he’s very familiar with, but to do so in an honest and forthright way,” the governor said.

While Newsom has generally avoided criticizing Trump directly, last week he pointedly criticized “climate deniers” who dismiss the role that burning coal, oil and gas for heating, power and transportation plays in warming the planet — something the state has been trying to fix by aggressively pursuing renewable solar and wind energy, though its policies drew some criticism last month after power shortages and rolling blackouts.

Last month, California officials signed a major agreement with the federal government that aims to reshape how forests are managed. Under the plan, California agencies and the U.S. Forest Service will use brush clearing, logging and prescribed fires to thin out 1 million acres a year by 2025 and roughly double the current rate of thinning, which already is double the rate from a few years ago.

The Forest Service and the state Natural Resources Agency also committed to drawing up a 20-year plan by next year to identify which areas of the state will get priority for thinning projects.

“I want to thank you,” Newsom told Trump during their meeting, “for the work that you’ve done to be immediate in terms of your response.”

But Trump’s Democratic rival said the president would do nothing about the climate, while Biden would have the U.S. rejoin the Paris climate agreement that Trump said disadvantaged the country; make the federal government buy electric vehicles; and set a goal of eliminating coal, oil and gas from the power supply in 15 years.

“Donald Trump’s climate denial may not have caused these fires and record floods and record hurricanes,” Biden said, “but if he gets a second term these hellish events will continue to become more common and more devastating and more deadly.” Bay Area News Group staff writers Julia Prodis Sulek and Maggie Angst and the Sacramento Bee contributed to this report.

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  • To Country: United States
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  • Posted On: 9/15/2020 9:32:19 AM
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