Obama Uses Backdrop of California Drought to Pitch $1 Billion Climate-Change Fund
President Obama spent the latter half of Valentine's Day in California's parched San Joaquin Valley, linking the drought fueled in part by stringent environmental regulations on water delivery to climate change.
"The changing climate means drought, fire, storms, and floods will be costlier and harsher," Obama said while surveying a farm in Los Banos, accompanied by Gov. Jerry Brown, Sens. Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer, and Rep. Jim Costa (D-Calif.).
The administration announced a series of actions anchored in the departments of Agriculture and Interior intended to combat the longstanding economic effects of the drought in the nation's breadbasket, including $5 million in additional assistance to California through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program that "helps farmers and ranchers implement conservation practices that conserve scarce water resources, reduce wind erosion on drought-impacted fields and improve livestock access to water" and $5 million in targeted Emergency Watershed Protection Program assistance to the most drought-impacted areas of California "to protect vulnerable soils."
The White House also announced that $60 million has been made available through the USDA's Emergency Food Assistance Program to food banks in California and 600 summer meal sites would be established in drought stricken areas. The USDA is "making $3 million in grants available to help rural communities that are experiencing a significant decline in the quality or quantity of drinking water due to the drought obtain or maintain water sources of sufficient quantity and quality."
At the San Luis Water District facility in Firebaugh, Calif., Obama said "this is going to be a very challenging situation for some time to come."
He refused to issue any guidance on the protection of species that have dragged water deliveries into court for many years. "I'm not gonna wade into this. I want to get out alive on Valentine's Day," the president said. "...We're going to have to figure out how to play a different game. We can't afford years of litigation and no real action."
The most notable part of his proposals is $1 billion he'll be calling for in his overdue budget for a Climate Resilience Fund.
"In addition to responding to the immediate drought in California, the President believes that we must do more to help communities across the country become more resilient to the effects of climate change. Recent events have reinforced our knowledge that our communities and economy remain vulnerable to extreme weather and natural hazards," the White House said. The funds would go toward research, local measures to mitigate climate change risk, and "breakthrough technologies and resilient infrastructure that will make us more resilient in the face of changing climate."
Central California Republicans were incredulous that Obama steered the severe drought toward his climate change agenda.
“To blame the California water crisis on global warming is ludicrous,” Rep. Devin Nunes (R-Calif.) said. “The state has an incredible irrigation system designed to supply water through five years of drought. But as a result of excessive regulations and lawsuits by environmental extremists, we cannot fully use this system, and billions of gallons of water have been flushed into the ocean that could have supplied drought-stricken farmers and communities."
"Invoking global warming shows ignorance of California’s irrigation system and of basic math and engineering," Nunes added. "President Obama could have taken the lead in solving this crisis, but he is apparently more concerned with placating his radical environmentalist allies.”
Rep. David Valadao (R-Calif.) said Obama "missed a prime opportunity" in his visit.
“As farmers, farm workers and communities in the San Joaquin Valley suffer, this administration has chosen handouts and a climate change lecture over real solutions," Valadao said. "We feed the world and all we ask for is a reliable, clean water supply. I will remind the president that my constituents are part of the environment too, and the lack of a long-term solution could spell economic and social destruction for the Central Valley.”
House Minority Whip Kevin McCarthy (R-Calif.) said Obama's "decision to use his visit to California as an opportunity to launch a massive spending initiative to explore the impacts of climate change will simply leave California Central Valley communities dry."
“Unfortunately, nothing the president proposed today changes the underlying issue that our communities are not receiving the water they have contracted and paid for; thus exacerbating the impacts of the current and future droughts," McCarthy said. "House Republicans on the other hand are continuing to work to find a bipartisan, bicameral solution to ensure our communities are not crippled by future droughts."
Last week, the House passed the San Joaquin Valley Emergency Water Delivery Act on a bipartisan vote of 229-191. It was sponsored by every Republican member from California and led by Nunes, Valadao and McCarthy, and tweaks federal water regulations that have "severely curtailed water deliveries and resulted in hundreds of billions of gallons of badly needed water being flushed into the ocean," according to the lawmakers.
"We look forward to coming together with the Senate to find areas of common ground and common sense to finally achieve a solution that allows desperately needed water to flow in our state," McCarthy said, though the upper chamber has failed to pass a string of similar legislation previously passed by the House to increase California water supplies.
House Science, Space, and Technology Committee Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Texas) said Obama was "once again linking extreme weather to climate change - with no scientific support" to push his climate-change agenda.
"The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration found that ‘Climate change was not a significant part’ of the recent Texas droughts. And the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change found that ‘in some regions droughts have become less frequent, less intense, or shorter, for example, central North America ….’ Drought is a serious problem that should not be used to justify a partisan agenda or a new billion dollar climate change fund. Over the last five years, the federal government has already spent $77 billion on climate change. And what do we have to show for that money?" Smith said.
“There are better ways to help Americans who have been impacted by drought. This week, the House passed a bipartisan bill to improve a critical drought monitoring program that has helped state and local governments, farmers and ranchers monitor and predict drought conditions," the chairman continued. "Providing practical information such as data on past droughts, current weather observations and early drought warnings can help local decision-makers prepare for and mitigate drought impacts. I look forward to a day when the weather is no longer used to gain political leverage.”