Interior Secretary Haaland promises governors federal help for fires, drought

By: - December 11, 2021 7:00 am

Climate-induced weather disasters include record wildfires in the West, record-setting heat waves and droughts, and aggressive hurricanes. Here, smoke plumes and hurricane clouds are visible at once. Credit: NASA Earth Observatory

U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland pledged federal resources and cooperation with governors from 19 Western states to tackle wildfire resilience, drought management, oil and gas cleanup efforts, and other problems made more difficult by climate change.

Speaking at the Western Governors Association meeting outside San Diego on Thursday, Haaland touted funding for Interior priorities in the newly enacted infrastructure law and highlighted the roles states would play in using it.

“We cannot be successful in putting these new resources to work without your support and leadership,” she told the group. “We know it will be you and your teams who implement so many of the on-the-ground projects that will reshape our shared future.”

Longtime Western problems like drought and wildfire have been worsened by a changing climate, she said. Money in the administration-sponsored infrastructure law is meant to address those issues.

The law provides $1.5 billion for Interior wildfire resilience programs and $8.3 billion in water management projects to mitigate the effects of drought. It also appropriates $16 billion for legacy pollution cleanup and another roughly $16 billion for reclaiming abandoned mines and plugging uncapped oil and gas wells.

Spending on wildfire and water programs and upgrades to national parks infrastructure would expand job opportunities and boost the outdoor recreation economy, she said.

But that work must be paired with restorative efforts, including cleaning up abandoned mines and fossil fuel wells, she said.

“As we build toward the future, we have an obligation to address the failures of the past,” she said. “These discarded remnants of extractive industries spew poison into the air and nearby waters and contribute to climate change.”

The Western Governors Association, which includes governors from Alaska to Texas, convenes its members twice a year to discuss problems widely experienced in the West. Idaho Gov. Brad Little chaired the group this year, with Colorado’s Jared Polis set to lead it in 2022. The governors of Arizona, Kansas, Montana, Nevada, New Mexico, and Oregon are also members.

Haaland opened her remarks with a commitment to continue Interior’s close relationship with Western governors. She cited work with states to conserve water and manage competing priorities in the Klamath and Colorado River basins during droughts this year as examples of the department’s partnerships with states.

She pledged to visit the Western states in 2022 that she did not travel to this year. Her 2021 schedule included stops in Colorado, New Mexico, and Oregon.

In a brief question-and-answer session, Wyoming Gov. Mark Gordon, a Republican, asked about the possibility of governors having “a direct line” to the secretary. Haaland replied that she had an open door and that someone at the department of more than  65,000 workers would always be ready to help with whatever problems governors deal with at a given time.

Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat who is the immediate past chair of the governors group, added that she had direct conversations with Haaland throughout the water crisis in the Klamath River Basin this summer.

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Jacob Fischler
Jacob Fischler

Jacob covers federal policy as a senior reporter for States Newsroom. Based in Oregon, he focuses on Western issues. His coverage areas include climate, energy development, public lands and infrastructure.

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