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White House Declines to Explain Trump Tweets Claiming California’s Environmental Laws Exacerbate Wildfires

The Ranch Fire, part of the Mendocino Complex Fire, crests a ridge as Cal Fire Battalion Chief Matt Sully directs firefighting operations near Clearlake Oaks on Aug. 5, 2018. (Credit: Noah Berger / AFP / Getty Images)

The Ranch Fire, part of the Mendocino Complex Fire, crests a ridge as Cal Fire Battalion Chief Matt Sully directs firefighting operations near Clearlake Oaks on Aug. 5, 2018. (Credit: Noah Berger / AFP / Getty Images)

Even the White House can’t explain President Donald Trump’s tweets suggesting California environmental laws have worsened wildfires raging in that state.

On Tuesday, administration officials declined to offer any clarity on Trump’s series of tweets claiming environmental laws and water regulations in California are hampering the state’s ability to fight the wildfires. Wildfire experts and local officials say the President’s claims simply don’t hold up.

Instead, some White House officials admitted to being slightly perplexed at where Trump may have gotten the notion that California’s long-running water crisis and a debate over how to divide limited supplies are somehow related to the out of control fires.

While Trump’s tweets can sometimes be linked to segments on Fox News, there have been no correlating segments linking the two issues in recent days on the channel that frequently serves as presidential inspiration. White House officials also couldn’t say whether Trump had discussed the issue with California lawmakers involved in the water debate.

What Trump said

Trump launched his unfounded suggestions in a tweet on Sunday claiming: “California wildfires are being magnified & made so much worse by the bad environmental laws which aren’t allowing massive amount of readily available water to be properly utilized.”

He then claimed that the water is “being diverted into the Pacific Ocean.”

He reiterated those claims on Monday, calling on Democratic California Gov. Jerry Brown to “allow the Free Flow of the vast amounts of water coming from the North and foolishly being diverted into the Pacific Ocean. Can be used for fires, farming and everything else.”

Trump’s claims are false, according to California officials and wildfire experts.

Trump said Tuesday at a dinner with business leaders that a “very tough situation” is underway in California, where wildfires are raging.

“It’s been a very tough situation taking place in California for a number of years and we’re going to have to have some meetings about it,” Trump said from his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf club.

Trump said there are “things you can do to mitigate” the damage, but did not expand upon his remarks.

He said he was “deeply grateful to firefighters and first responders” combating the flames, and said that his administration would do “everything in our power to protect those in harm’s way.”

He did not repeat his earlier claims, made on Twitter, that a water shortage was affecting impacting the state’s ability to fight the fires.

What officials and experts have said

Local officials have made clear they have not had any difficulty accessing enough water to fight the fires. A FEMA official also told CNN there is no water shortage or problem with access to water hindering firefighting efforts in California.

Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift declined to comment on Trump’s tweets: “We don’t weigh in on the President’s tweets. We let those statements speak for themselves.”

As for water “being diverted into the Pacific Ocean,” while there is a debate raging in California about how much water should be diverted to coastal communities versus farmers in the central part of the state, water is not being intentionally flushed into the ocean.

“I was stunned when I read this this morning,” Henri Grissino-Mayer, a climatologist and biogeographer at the University of Tennessee, told CNN in an email. “California does NOT divert water to the ocean. Ridiculous.”

Grissino-Mayer noted that water “is diverted to the coastal cities for a constant water supply but all such water is used by the coastal communities.”

What’s the context?

Trump’s tweet comes after California water officials ignited a debate this summer by proposing a plan to limit the amount of water that can be drawn from the San Joaquin River for use in cities and farmlands.

The proposal has pitted farmers against fisheries and environmentalists, but Trump’s attempt to connect the debate to wildfires doesn’t pass muster.

Instead of environmental laws and water regulations, local officials and experts have said scorching heat and dry conditions have led to several of the worst wildfires California has ever seen.

Experts say those conditions are being driven by climate change, which Trump has previously dismissed as a hoax.