As wildfires tear through much of the West, Senate candidate Mitt Romney sees an “unarguable” failure by government to do its main job: secure life, liberty and property.
In an essay posted on Romney’s campaign website, the former Massachusetts governor and presidential candidate argues for greater investment in fire-prevention programs — including controlled burns and logging operations to thin forests and remove dead timber — and the buildup of regional response hubs, personnel training and a large-scale fire-detection system to monitor “every square mile” of high-risk land.
“If the devastation of wildfires were being caused, instead, by a foreign enemy rather than by natural causes," Romney wrote, “we would do and spend whatever it took to stop it.”
The Republican candidate said the country no longer can rely on understaffed and inadequately equipped local fire departments. He referred to the fire-related deaths of 10 people this year — although it was unspecified what region that number was taken from — and the loss of hundreds of homes, saying it is unacceptable to attribute the destruction solely to acts of nature.
“Massive, destructive wildfires are no longer the exception,” Romney wrote. “Climate realities mean they will be a recurring menace every year. It’s high time for government to do something about them."
Wildfires burning in Utah, Oregon and California have produced sufficient smoke and haze to obscure views of the Wasatch Front and produce unhealthy levels of particulate matter within the Beehive State. In California, the Mendocino Complex Fire has burned roughly 290,000 acres, making it the largest wildfire in the state’s history, according to Associated Press reports.
Jenny Wilson, a Salt Lake County councilwoman and Romney’s Democratic opponent for Utah’s U.S. Senate seat, said she supports proactive fire-prevention measures like controlled burns and detection systems. But she added that Romney had missed the point in his essay.
“Rising temperatures, early snowmelts, and drier forests are the direct result of climate change,” Wilson said in a prepared statement. “We must address climate change as a national crisis in order to protect the American west.”
Wilson said Utah’s fires are becoming larger and causing more damage than ever. Investment in and support for on-the-ground firefighting teams must be combined with meaningful climate policies, she said.
“We have to fight for responsible environmental policies as a long-term solution to Utah’s terrifying and increasingly more dangerous fire season,” Wilson said.
Beyond his reference to “climate realities” and a line about seeking common ground with environmentalists, Romney’s essay does not address what role, if any, he sees human activity playing in climate change and the exacerbation of wildfires. His campaign did not respond to requests by The Salt Lake Tribune for clarification.
In his 2010 book “No Apology: The Case for American Greatness,” Romney wrote, “I believe that climate change is occurring — the reduction in the size of global ice caps is hard to ignore. I also believe that human activity is a contributing factor. I am uncertain how much of the warming, however, is attributable to factors out of our control.”
As Massachusetts governor, he refused to sign a regional cap-and-trade agreement and, in his 2012 presidential campaign, he opposed President Barack Obama’s emissions regulations on power plants and vehicles and said he would renegotiate the increasingly tough fuel-efficiency standards that automakers had agreed to during the Obama administration.