California Governor Gavin Newsom has no time for climate change deniers, heading up a state facing the dire reality of deadly and worsening wildfires.
“If anyone is wondering if climate change is real, come to California,” Newsom said at a press conference Friday, speaking of the threat of wildfires in the state and what his government is doing to prevent it.
He unveiled a new report from the governor’s “strike force” on fires and climate change, which lays out the record-breaking blazes the state has experienced in the last few years, the breadth of areas still under threat and recommendations for how to prevent future fires. The report will be presented to state lawmakers.
Fifteen of the 20 most destructive wildfires in California’s history took place since 2000, per the report ― and 10 of these occurred in the last five years.
Last fall, the Camp fire ― the deadliest and most destructive in the state ever ― killed 85 people and burned down nearly 14,000 homes, leveling almost the entire community of Paradise.
“We are in a very precarious state,” Newsom added, noting that about 25 percent of the state’s population live in areas considered high-risk for fires.
Newsom also laid out some of the actions he’s taken since he was sworn into office 90 days ago. Earlier this year, he proposed increasing funds for firefighting and fire prevention efforts. In February, he announced he was pulling National Guard troops from the border to tackle wildfire prevention efforts. And last month, he declared a statewide emergency to speed up tree clearing and other forest management efforts to reduce fire fuel in areas at high risk of wildfires.
“There is no debate,” Newsom said of climate change. “If they need any evidence… come to California, and we will reinforce the obvious. This is not an ideological endeavor. This is a very practical one for California.”
Newsom’s report details recommendations for prioritizing prevention ahead of the upcoming fire season, including enhancing alert systems and emergency notifications, as well as holding utilities accountable for their role in starting fires.
California utility Pacific Gas & Electric recently admitted that its equipment failures were likely the cause of the Camp fire in November.
PG&E filed for bankruptcy in January, after facing billions of dollars in claims related to the Camp fire, as well as the deadly fires in Sonoma, Napa and other counties in 2017.
Several lawsuits have been filed against PG&E on behalf of wildfire victims, saying the company is responsible for deadly 2017 and 2018 fires. Investigators with the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection determined that a dozen of the 2017 blazes were started by failed PG&E electric equipment, including after trees or branches fell onto power lines.
When it comes to holding PG&E accountable for mismanagement and safety failures, Newsom said Friday “all options are on the table.” The report notes that “no options can be taken off the table to reform PG&E, including municipalization of all or a portion of PG&E’s operations.”
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