In parched California, a message of aid and a warning from President Obama – ‘A changing climate means weather-related disasters like droughts, wildfires, storms, floods, are potentially going to be costlier and they’re going to be harsher’Posted by Jim at Sunday, February 16, 2014
By Diana Marcum and Evan Halper
February 14, 2014, 9:14 p.m.
FIREBAUGH, California (Los Angeles Times) – Standing Friday afternoon on cracked, parched earth where melons would usually grow, President Obama brought both a message of aid and an ominous warning to drought-stricken California as he outlined more than $160 million in federal assistance.
The directives include aid for ranchers struggling to feed their livestock because of the drought, and for food banks serving families in hard-hit areas. Obama also called on U.S. government facilities in California to curb water use.
"These actions will help. But they're just the first step," he said. "We have to be clear. A changing climate means that weather-related disasters like droughts, wildfires, storms [and] floods are potentially going to be costlier and they're going to be harsher."
Obama arrived in the Central Valley at a time when highway signs statewide are flashing "Serious Drought, Help Save Water" and farmers are letting fields of row crops go fallow in hopes of saving orchards.
At a round-table discussion with labor leaders, farmers and water district representatives who had personal and generational histories of fighting for resources, Obama acknowledged California's fraught water fights.
"I'm here to listen," he said. "I'm not going to wade into this. I want to get out alive on Valentine's Day."
But he then spelled out an agenda in direct opposition to that proposed by House Republicans who have called for dismantling environmental regulations that they say cripple farmers.
Obama tied the drought directly to global warming: "Unless and until we do more to combat carbon pollution that causes climate change, this trend is going to get a lot worse."
Republicans have seized on voter anger over water rationing in and around the Central Valley, seeing it as an issue that could help tilt congressional midterm elections their way in several swing districts.
House Speaker John A. Boehner (R-Ohio) traveled to Bakersfield last month to declare that environmental rules favored by Democrats have created an untenable situation for farmers. Soon after, the House passed a measure to divert some of the state's dwindling water supply their way.
The plan resonates in parts of the Central Valley, which are facing crippling unemployment as a result of the drought. Its supporters include Rep. Jim Costa (D-Fresno), who broke with his caucus to vote for the GOP plan.
But it drew heated opposition from the bulk of California's congressional delegation, which is dominated by Democrats. They warn it would amount to stealing water from their constituents and giving it to the state's big agricultural interests. Sen. Dianne Feinstein and Sen. Barbara Boxer, both California Democrats, produced their own plan.
The Senate proposal resembles the kind of action Obama announced Friday. It provides emergency grants and other funds, and leverages existing federal resources in an effort to ease the pain of the drought.
The proposals leave endangered species rules intact despite GOP demands that Congress put "people before fish."
"Without substantive changes to burdensome environmental regulations, the well-being of fish will continue to be placed ahead of the well-being of our Central and Southern California communities that rely on critical water supplies to survive," Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-Bakersfield), the No. 3 Republican in the House, said in a statement Friday. [more]
By DARLENE SUPERVILLE
14 February 2014
PALM SPRINGS, California (Associated Press) – President Barack Obama drew a link between climate change and California's drought, and said the U.S. must do a better job of figuring out how to make sure everyone's water needs are satisfied.
On a tour of central California on Friday, Obama warned that weather-related disasters will only get worse.
"We can't think of this simply as a zero-sum game. It can't just be a matter of there's going to be less and less water so I'm going to grab more and more of a shrinking share of water," Obama said after touring part of a farm that is suffering under the state's worst drought in more than 100 years.
"Instead what we have to do is all come together and figure out how we all are going to make sure that agricultural needs, urban needs, industrial needs, environmental and conservation concerns are all addressed," he said.
Even if the U.S. takes immediate action to curb pollution, the planet will keep getting warmer for a long time to come because of greenhouse gases that already have built up, he said.
"We're going to have to stop looking at these disasters as something to wait for," Obama said, announcing more than $160 million in federal financial aid. The sum includes $100 million in the farm bill he signed into law last week for programs that cover the loss of livestock.
The package includes smaller aid amounts for the most extreme drought areas and to help food banks serving families affected by the water shortage. Obama also called on federal facilities in California to begin conserving water immediately.
"These actions will help, but they're just the first step," he said. "We have to be clear. A changing climate means that weather-related disasters like droughts, wildfires, storms, floods, are potentially going to be costlier and they're going to be harsher."
The budget Obama will send Congress next month includes $1 billion for a "climate resilience fund" to invest in research and pay for new technologies to help communities deal with climate change. The proposal is likely to face stiff opposition from lawmakers wary of new spending and divided on global warming.
Obama urged Congress to act swiftly on Democratic legislation backed by California's senators, Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, that would pour $300 million into emergency aid and drought-relief projects, upgrade city water systems and water conservation, and speed up environmental reviews of water projects.
The White House has threatened to veto a Republican, House-passed bill that would roll back environmental protections and temporarily halt the restoration of a dried-up stretch of the San Joaquin River, work that is designed to restore historic salmon runs. The White House says the measure would not alleviate the drought but would undo decades of work to address California's longstanding water shortages. [more]