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Pignanelli & Webb: The political inferno of wildfires, and other issues

In this Aug. 9, 2018, file photo a wildfire burns near homes in the Cleveland National Forest in Lake Elsinore, Calif.
In this Aug. 9, 2018, file photo a wildfire burns near homes in the Cleveland National Forest in Lake Elsinore, Calif.
Ringo H.W. Chiu, AP

It's hard to escape the sultry weather. It’s also hard to escape a few other ongoing issues. So instead of ignoring them we tackle them head-on.

Between heat and smoke, we've suffered through one of the ugliest summers in remembrance. Do policymakers share any blame for the raging wildfires? Can anything be done?

Pignanelli: “To paraphrase Woody Guthrie, if this land is our land, then aren’t these fires all our fires, from sea to shining sea?”— Wildfire Magazine

I grew up in a strict household while attending Catholic school taught by very tough nuns, where misconduct was always punished with various physical methods. Thus, I learned creative and clever methods to shift blame for my missteps on entirely innocent individuals and entities (Unsuspecting fellow students, obnoxious siblings, poor animals, acts of God, etc.) Nothing was safe.

So I roll my eyes at these amateurs across the political spectrum hurling ridiculous unconvincing accusations at each other. They blemish the art form at which I excelled. Especially because everyone and no one is to blame for wildfires.

Humans are behaving as they have for thousands of years, pursuing productive activity. For the last century this means driving gas-powered vehicles, using electricity and consuming protein — all which contribute to global warming. Further, housing has encroached on forests. To assign such conduct as wrongful, or in the alternative pretend it was harmless, is silly and fruitless. Our species needs natural resources to survive and flourish, and major readjustments to garner such through sounder ecological means is needed — but without guilt trips.

If solutions are not developed, and finger-pointing continues, I know some Sisters who can administer discipline. No one wants that.

Webb: Liberal politicians quickly point to climate change as responsible for extreme weather and horrendous wildfires. I’m not smart enough to know if that’s true or not. But one thing is clear: If we wait to solve climate change before taking action on fire prevention and forest management, we’ll all be burned up.

The Economist, a respected international magazine, recently surveyed global progress on climate change and concluded: “Mankind … is losing the war.” The U.S. is making reasonable progress, but energy consumption in emerging countries that want to enjoy American-style living standards is exploding — and coal use is rising. Some 80 percent of India’s electricity is produced by coal, and two-thirds in China. Countries worldwide are producing and using more dirty energy. The result is that reversing climate change via lower carbon emissions is decades away.

So, yes, let’s work on climate change. But we can’t wait 30 years for the climate to cool. It’s crucial to take immediate steps to prevent catastrophic fires. That means controlled burns, aggressive thinning of forests and dead timber removal. Much more must be invested in rapid fire response, more firefighters, more planes and helicopters, better fire detection.

All of that is going to be expensive. But it’s not much considering the billions of dollars burned up in property loss, horrendous air pollution and lost productivity.

Operation Rio Grande (ORG), which has been executed at great cost and effort, is observing its one-year anniversary. What progress has been made and has it been worth the expense?

Pignanelli: Rio Grande is expensive, but the results — on so many levels — are valuable. Because the Legislature intervened and demanded returns for state dollars allocated, Speaker Greg Hughes peeled scabs to reveal reality. This prompted him to publicly refuse to accept the status quo. Thus, criminal elements were identified, along with the root cause of their addict customers. This has changed the trajectory to save lives and revitalize the area.

Webb: ORG had a good first year, with much more to do. We’ll never completely eradicate homelessness because it is usually a symptom of deeper problems — mental illness, addiction, family dysfunction, crime and financial calamity. What I like about ORG is that Utah leaders have approached the challenges with eyes wide open, understanding the difficulty of changing human behavior and mixing compassion with tough love. There’s no question that crime has decreased.

Congressman Rob Bishop is disgusted because the House passes a lot of legislation, only to see it die in the Senate. Is it time to eliminate the Senate filibuster rule that effectively requires a supermajority to get laws passed?

Pignanelli: There is no constitutional foundation to this silly nuisance. Aaron Burr suggested the Senate should have different rules to end debates. But the filibuster was not formally adopted until 1917. While some claim it protects smaller states, this vexation has hindered civil rights, balanced budgets, entitlement reform and most commonsense legislation to benefit a majority of Americans. As with powdered wigs, filibustering must be relegated to the dustbins.

Webb: It’s ridiculous that progress for the entire country on a wide range of issues is held hostage for lack of 60 votes in the U.S. Senate. Bishop is right. Dump the filibuster and let the majority rule. Perhaps in more affable days, when Republicans and Democrats could actually work together, 60 votes made sense. But today the minority creates gridlock and dysfunction and crucial progress is stifled.