Rural economic development & combating climate change

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Changes in climate as well as lack of appropriate policy action have led to devastating losses to life, property, and our local economy in California’s first district. Last year, 93 people died in our district in two devastating and historic wildfires. Forest-based industry in our district has been constricted by a lack of federal funding for forest management and overly-restrictive federal policies. The 11 counties of the north state that make up our district are rich in natural resources and natural beauty. Half of the land area of our district is federal public land, badly in need of management, while our communities suffer from levels of poverty and unemployment much higher than the rest of the state.

The forests of our district have become increasingly unhealthy in the last decade and are now at the point of posing a critical threat to our communities. Years of drought, as well as destructive beetle infestations have left a high percentage of dead trees, fuel for wildfires. We have been experiencing longer hotter fire seasons with devastating effect. Policy has also played a role in the current crisis. In the 1850s, healthy fire-adapted California forests hosted 50-80 trees per acre, whereas today our forests host an unsustainable 300-400 trees per acre. This has been caused not only by climate change, but also by 100 years of forest mismanagement and the unintended consequences of environmental policy and fire suppression policy. Application of the Endangered Species Act has limited access to whole areas of forest where critical management practices are needed. Clear-cutting of trees, and replanting with a uniform stand of the same or few species has reduced the natural ability of the forest to regenerate and made beetle infestations spread more quickly. Our communities are bearing the risk of these dangerous forest conditions, without being given the opportunity to be a part of the solution.

Climate change is a complex and multi-layered issue, but its impact is devastating. While our communities are suffering from the effects of climate change, we also see farmers in the midwest suffering from droughts and floods, increasingly powerful storms throughout the country including tornados, winter storms, and hurricanes, and rising sea levels in Florida. A recent government study involving 13 federal agencies, predicts that through the course of this century climate change will cause our economy and agricultural production to fall, ending at a point 10% less than our current national economy.  

There is no one approach that will solve this emergency for us. A web of approaches are necessary, which bring diverse local stakeholders together for shared solutions-oriented planning (environmentalists, forest industry, local government, tribal government, etc.), which invest in and mobilize local people both in career and technical education as well as public-private partnerships in land stewardship, and which streamline and expedite regulatory hurdles and increase local control.

We must work to clear pathways for green energy technologies to compete in the marketplace by removing the red tape that impedes innovation and favors traditional energy options. We can Improve coordination of permitting and oversight at the federal, state and local levels in order to accelerate the implementation of clean energy projects that modernize our power grid and encourage investment in these technologies that create jobs.

My policy priorities for combating climate change and developing our rural economy focus on three critical approaches: mitigation, adaptation and resilience.