Trump Reverses Decision to Reject California’s Request for Wildfire Relief

MORAGA, Calif. — President Trump reversed himself on Friday, approving a bundle of wildfire catastrophe aid for California hours after officers from his administration had defined why the state mustn’t obtain the help.

The abrupt turnaround got here after the president spoke with Gov. Gavin Newsom, a Democrat, and Representative Kevin McCarthy, a Republican and the House minority chief, with the White House saying the boys “presented a convincing case” for the state receiving the help.

The catastrophe aid help covers six main wildfires that scorched greater than 1.eight million acres, destroyed 1000’s of constructions and induced no less than three deaths final month.

“Just got off the phone with President Trump who has approved our Major Disaster Declaration request,” Mr. Newsom of California stated in a press release. “Grateful for his quick response.”

Lizzie Litzow, the agency’s press secretary, said damage assessments of some of the fires that started in early September, which included one of the largest fires in California’s history, “were not of such severity and magnitude to exceed the combined capabilities of the state, affected local governments, voluntary agencies and other responding federal agencies.”

The initial rejection was unusual but not unprecedented: A 2017 report by the Congressional Research Service found that from 1974 to 2016 presidents denied requests for disaster relief an average of 2.9 times per year during nonelection years, and 2.1 times in a year with a presidential election.

Since the enactment in 1953 of a federal disaster relief act, presidents have been authorized to issue declarations that provide states with federal assistance in response to natural and man-made incidents. The requests are judged based on criteria that take into account damage to infrastructure, existing insurance coverage and a state’s population, among others.

But the president ultimately has the authority to approve or reject a disaster aid request regardless whether the criteria are met.

Mr. Newsom said on Friday morning that he would appeal the denial — and had apparent success in persuading the president during their afternoon phone call.

Mr. Trump’s reversal on the aid came after members of his party in California urged him to change his mind. “I am writing to respectfully request your reconsideration,” State Senator Andreas Borgeas, a Republican, wrote Mr. Trump in a letter on Friday. The Creek Fire, which ravaged parts of Mr. Borgeas’s district, “caused unprecedented damage during these most unprecedented times,” he said.

While the state did not include a specific dollar amount in its request, Mr. Newsom had written that because of a recession induced by the coronavirus pandemic, California went from a projected $5.6 billion budget surplus to a $54.3 billion projected deficit. “California’s economy is suffering in a way we have not seen since the 2009 Great Recession,” he said in the request, which came in the form of a letter to Mr. Trump.

Infrastructure damage estimates from the fires had exceeded $229 million, Mr. Newsom said, and “the severity and magnitude of these fires continue to cause significant impacts to the state and to the affected local jurisdictions, such that recovery efforts remain beyond the state’s capabilities.”

And wildfire experts say Mr. Trump’s analysis of the causes of the blazes is problematic because most of California’s forests are on land owned by the federal government and their maintenance largely falls under the responsibility of his administration.

As wildfires have become hotter, more intense and more destructive in recent years liberals and conservatives have been locked in a debate over the reasons. During a visit to California in September, Mr. Trump said “I don’t think science knows” what is happening when the state’s secretary for natural resources pressed him on the changing climate.

“One camp is saying it’s all climate change driven, and the other is saying it’s all forest management,” said Malcolm North, a forest ecologist at the University of California, Davis. “The reality is that it’s both. I get kind of frustrated at this all-or-nothing type of approach.”

Mr. Newsom last month requested the disaster declaration to include statewide hazard mitigation, as well as public assistance for seven counties.

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