Read More »"/> Read More »"/>
As fires rage in southern California, driving nearly 90,000 people from their homes, recurring governor Jerry Brown explains that that because of climate change such fires could be “the new normal” and “this could be something that happens every year or every few years.” As usual, the governor ignores a key back story.
The California Department of Forestry and Fire Prevention, known as Cal Fire, bears primary responsibility for fire prevention and suppression on more than 31 million acres of private and public land, some one-third of the state. As Lawrence McQuillan notes, Cal Fire’s $2.2 billion budget has increased 45 percent since the 2014-15 fiscal year but “80 percent or more of its budget typically goes to fire suppression, not prevention.” Cal Fire’s fund to pay for removal of dead trees and vegetation and to provide fire-prevention education and planning, has decreased in recent years. This reflects perverse incentives because, “fire managers face strong incentives to emphasize suppression, where budgets are larger.” Cal Fire failed to spend $43 million raised by a special fire-prevention fee on 800,000 property owners, and state fees prevented local communities from raising money independently for fire prevention. Brush-clearing projects, including controlled burns and use of herbicides, have also drawn the wrath of regulatory zealots, who claim the prevention projects put plants and the environment at risk.
Governor Brown avoided such issues and his charge that such wildfires are “the new normal” recalls his response to safety issues on the new span of the Bay Bridge. “I mean, look, shit happens,” Brown said. Lately the governor has been gallivanting across Europe preaching that people need a “brain washing” over climate change. During Brown’s recently tour, the state Air Resources Board reported that the state’s cap-and-trade system reduced greenhouse gasses by 5 percent. Actually, the drop occurred because heavy rains allowed utilities to generate more hydroelectric power. Brown is fond of the cap-and-trade auction because one quarter of the revenues go to his vaunted bullet train project, a certified boondoggle with few if any environmental benefits. California taxpayers could be forgiven for believing that bad government is the new normal in the Golden State.