WASHINGTON Feb 24 President Barack Obama will
ask Congress in his budget proposal next week to change the way
it pays for the soaring costs of fighting wildfires, the White
House said on Monday, noting the new approach will ensure more
money goes to preventing fires.
Obama met on Monday with governors from western states that
have had massive fires in recent years, including Arizona,
Colorado and Oregon, to discuss the approach.
"Population growth near forest and range lands, past
management practices and a changing climate have dramatically
increased wildfire risk and the resulting cost," White House
spokesman Jay Carney told reporters.
The Agriculture and Interior department currently base their
fire-fighting budgets on a 10-year average of costs, which left
them underfunded for 8 of the past 10 years, and forced to draw
from fire prevention programs to make up the costs.
"Unfortunately, the current way that the government pays for
fire suppression and preparedness costs is ill-suited to the
increasing severity and cost of fires," Carney said.
Obama supports legislation sponsored by Oregon Democrat Ron
Wyden and Idaho Republican Mike Crapo that would treat the
largest fires as natural disasters, meaning funds would come
from disaster accounts.
The senators estimate removing the largest 1 percent of
fires from regular budgets would free up to $412 million for
fire prevention projects.
"The largest wildfires are natural disasters, no different
from tornadoes or earthquakes," Wyden said in a statement.
Obama has pledged to do more to address climate change and
help communities prepare for the impact of severe weather.
Earlier this month, he toured parts of California's drought
zone, and stressed that governments need to do more to curb
carbon emissions blamed for climate change.
(Reporting by Roberta Rampton; Editing by Bernard Orr)