news and events » news

News Header

News Item

return to News

Governor's budget adds billions to confront wildfire, climate change

by Julie Johnson, San Francisco Chronicle |

Gov. Gavin Newsom wants California to commit to another year of record spending to battle a wildfire crisis that shows no sign of letting up — among billions of dollars proposed, in a draft of the state budget, to protect communities from future climate disasters.

The budget plan calls for the state to reach into an estimated $46 billion budget surplus and devote $1.2 billion over the next two years to wildfire. Much of the money would go toward fire prevention, including $482 million for projects creating more fire-resilient landscapes through a combination of reforestation, forest thinning, prescribed burns and livestock grazing programs.

The draft budget, released by the governor’s office on Monday, includes just over $284 million to pay for more equipment to battle fires, including adding four specialized helicopters that fly at night to the state’s air resources fleet, as well as additional helitankers and bulldozers. The money would also help the state expand its permanent hand-crew staff, which has been in short supply.

Wade Crowfoot, California’s natural resources secretary, said California saw last fall how areas of thinned forests and firebreaks helped firefighters stop the Caldor Fire from burning into South Lake Tahoe — indication the money would be well spent.

“Our interventions are getting better,” Crowfoot said during a news conference.

More than 2.5 million acres burned last year across the state in major fires including the Caldor Fire and the nearly 1-million-acre Dixie Fire in the northern Sierra, both massive blazes that charred forests and destroyed homes. The number of fires burning simultaneously throughout California last fall forced an exhausted firefighting force to work for weeks on end with little to no breaks.

Tim Edwards, union president of Cal Fire Firefighters, said the proposed spending was crucial and acknowledged the serious toll the wildfire crisis has taken on the people on the front lines.

“No elected official in my lifetime has been dealt a tougher hand than the first four years of Gov. Newsom’s administration,” Edwards said. “While COVID has altered our social structure, drought and climate change have resulted in fires of such catastrophic nature as to create a new normal.”

The proposed wildfire funding was part of the governor’s climate package, which would include significant investments in reducing heat-trapping emissions and fostering the state’s clean energy sector.

Newsom proposed spending an additional $6.1 billion over the next five years on reducing emissions. Money would be allocated to help the state transition away from gas-powered vehicles to electric ones, including for school buses and short-haul trucks. Funding was also proposed for equity projects to help low-income communities build the infrastructure needed to support more electric vehicles.

The plan also proposed $2 billion for the decarbonization of heavy industry, offshore wind infrastructure and greater energy storage capacity. It also proposed programs to train workers in the oil and gas sectors to work in clean-energy fields.

Newsom’s proposed $286.4 billion budget covers the fiscal year beginning July 1 and needs approval from the Legislature before moving forward.

Ellie Cohen, executive director of Santa Rosa-based nonprofit the Climate Center, commended the governor for proposing significant investments on urgent climate issues, especially decarbonizing the energy, industrial and transportation sectors.

But she called for Newsom to commit even more funding to energy resilience and clean energy programs.

“Much more is needed to advance solutions at the speed and scale science demands,” she said.