EDITORIAL: FEMA climate change mandate on states must be dropped

It is an understatement to say that states and the federal government have a strained relationship these days. Perhaps the biggest factor in this worsening relationship is the federal government’s obsession with bullying the states into doing what it wants them to do.

Case in point: the Federal Emergency Management Agency says that, as of next March, states must properly address the issue of climate change to be eligible for grant funding.

Thankfully, congressional Republicans are challenging the new policy.

Seven Republican lawmakers signed a letter to FEMA Administrator W. Craig Fugate expressing their concern that the new policy will needlessly complicate and delay the ability of states to prepare for natural disasters. In the letter, the lawmakers said they’re concerned that the agency’s decision will create unnecessary red tape in the disaster preparedness process. They aptly pointed out that climate change is not settled science — there is no such thing — and cited “gaps in the scientific understanding around climate change.”

“As you know, disaster mitigation grants are awarded to state and local governments after a presidential major disaster declaration,” they wrote. “These funds are crucial in helping disaster-stricken communities prepare for future emergencies.”

This new policy is simply more “run your states the way we say or we won’t help you” garbage from an ineffective bureaucracy run amok. And injecting an issue as dogmatic and hyperpolitical as climate change into responses for people in urgent need of help is completely disgraceful.

Among the many environmental disasters that states have to prepare for are wildfires. And as wildfire season begins around the country, it’s important to note that vast wildfire destruction has more to do with horrible land management policies than the climate itself — whether it’s changing or not. Environmentalists who urgently warn that climate change will cause devastating fires also stridently oppose efforts to clear the brush and old growth that fuel wildfires on the grounds that doing so will … cause environmental damage.

Experts estimate that wildfires destroyed 6,500 square miles of U.S. forest in 2013, an area larger than the state of Connecticut. Poor wildfire and land management on the part of the U.S. Forest Service is partly to blame. And Washington has known about the problem for years.

According to a 1998 report by the Government Accountability Office, “catastrophic wildfires threaten resources and communities” throughout the West. And a big reason why, the office concluded, was because “the Forest Service’s decision-making process is broken.” To this day, almost 20 years later, it hasn’t been fixed.

Instead of pouring more money into broken bureaucracies, Washington should be encouraging more local control of land and planning. The people closest to danger zones — the people who have to live with the consequences of their preparation, or lack thereof — must have the authority and flexibility to adapt to changing conditions and circumstances. What works in one area might be a bad idea in another.

FEMA simply has no business telling states how to function when the agency is afflicted with gross incompetence. Its responses to Hurricanes Katrina and Sandy were legendary boondoggles.

The solution is to let state and local authorities make decisions to address potential emergencies, not have a failed federal entity force top-down ideology on the states.

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