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The Faulty Foundations of Trump's Threats to Withhold FEMA Funding From Wildfire Victims

Firefighters and climate scientists have pushed back on Trump's claims about wildfire management, month after month.
Flames from the Camp Fire burn near a home atop a ridge near Big Bend, California, on November 10th, 2018.

Flames from the Camp Fire burn near a home atop a ridge near Big Bend, California, on November 10th, 2018.

Californians are just beginning to recover from the state's deadliest and most destructive wildfire, but on Wednesday, the president threatened to deny these victims federal funds. Donald Trump said in a tweet that he would withhold money from the Federal Emergency Management Agency—despite the $33 million approved for disaster assistance in December—as punishment for poor forest management, an oft-repeated claim that has been widely criticized.

Democrats decried the president's threat as both inaccurate and harmful. Senator Dianne Feinstein of California called the statement an "empty threat" on Twitter, adding: "The Camp Fire killed 86 people, destroyed 14,000 homes & burned 150,000 acres. It's absolutely shocking for President Trump to suggest he would deny disaster assistance to the victims."

State laws prevent the executive from delaying "the rapid deployment distribution of critical resources" after a major disaster declaration has been made, as in the case of the Camp Fire, but Trump could refuse to make these declarations in the future, the Olympian reports.

It may be an empty threat—after all, this is the third time Trump has threatened to cut funding—but it also obscures a very real problem. The American West faces an increasingly intense and lengthening fire season, but research shows that climate change, not forest management, is to blame for the bulk of California's fires. The solutions that Trump has proposed—cutting already-limited funding, rolling back environmental laws to allow for more logging, and potentially clear-cutting forests—fail to address this issue and may even worsen the damage from wildfires, according to experts. And California firefighters and climate scientists have pushed back on these claims, month after month.

Here are highlights from Pacific Standard's coverage of these claims and the realities behind them.