You can see the smoky haze in the Northern California area. Everything has a brown tinge from the sunlight. The area is literally covered in smoke. Some blame climate change. I blame poor public land management, cost cutting on electric transmission lines, and misdirected state budget spending.
This state must get out of this tragic haze and think more clearly about addressing wildfires. Otherwise, Sacramento’s previous efforts to address greenhouse gases are insincere and just more showmanship. Simply put, previous leadership efforts have been smoke and mist. With more residents tragically losing their lives in the past few days, it’s time for a turnaround in thinking at the Capitol.
I dare to propose three recommendations in the San Francisco Chronicle piece provided below.
3 practical steps to reduce wildfires in California
By John Moorlach
A single forest fire can release four or five times as much greenhouse gas than are reduced by a year’s worth of government-regulated industry and personal vehicles emission. Oddly, the California Air Resources Board doesn’t even count wildfire greenhouse gases in its carbon-reduction reports.
So if we want to get serious about reducing greenhouses gases, we’re going to need to take some bold steps to prevent out-of-control wildfires.
Are there actions we can take beside the usual precautions such as clearing flammable underbrush and planning for an evacuation? Yes.
1. We should revisit Senate Bill 1463, which I authored in 2018 but was killed in committee even though no one testified in opposition to it. Called “Cap and Trees,” it would continuously appropriate 25 percent of state cap-and-trade funds to counties to harden the state’s utility infrastructure and better manage wildlands and our overgrown and drought-weakened forests.
Although the new fires’ origins still are being investigated, both of last year’s major wildfires were caused at least in part by collapsing power lines whose sparks sent off blazes. Further, the bill required the Air Resources Board to include greenhouse gas emissions from wildland and forest fires in its updated scoping plan.
2. We should stop funding the high-speed rail project with cap-and-trade dollars — $621 million this year, according to the analysis of the fiscal 2018-19 budget by the Legislative Analyst’s Office — and divert it to protecting our forests. This makes sense as the construction of high-speed rail is also producing enormous quantities of greenhouse gases.
Doing so would be a “three-fer”: We’d stop sinking good money after bad; we’d manage our forests better, saving lives and property; and we’d actually make a serious dent in reducing greenhouse gases.
Some of this may involve prescribed burns in our forests, as authored this year in Senate Bill 1260 by my Democratic colleague, Hannah-Beth Jackson of Santa Barbara. Because the forests are going to burn anyway, we’re much better off reducing the fuel load safely. Prescribed burns, where fires are purposely set when humidity and temperatures limit damage, are the primary tool to use.
3. Where such burns are impractical, such as around homes and developed property, we can employ mechanical thinning. The mechanically harvested shrubs and saplings can be used for construction materials, thus sequestering carbon, and act as fuel for biomass power plants.
Unfortunately, decades of restrictive preservationist policy — letting the forests grow unfettered with little to no management — have devastated local economies and shuttered many of our mills and biomass energy plants. State policies should encourage a balanced vegetation management regime to foster the requisite institutional know-how and tools to proactively deal with these fire-prone areas.
As with so many problems in this state, solutions exist, but are being shunned due to misconceptions or political ideology. Until we pass and implement real solutions, the state will continue to burn.
State Sen. John Moorlach, R-Costa Mesa, represents portions of Orange County.
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