Biden administration snubs Ducey in Western wildfire meeting

By: - June 30, 2021 11:21 am

President Joe Biden on Wednesday convened a first-of-its-kind meeting to make similar preparations for what is shaping up to be another devastating wildfire season in the West. Screenshot via the White House.

Doug Ducey was one of just three Western governors that the White House didn’t invite to a meeting on wildfires that the Biden administration convened, despite the particularly nasty fire season that Arizona is currently facing.

The governors of California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, Utah, Washington and Wyoming were invited to virtually attend today’s meeting with a host of cabinet officials and other White House and cabinet staff. Ducey and his counterparts in Idaho and Montana did not attend.

Ducey spokesman C.J. Karamargin confirmed that the White House didn’t invite the Arizona governor. 

Ducey’s exclusion from the meeting comes as 14 wildfires burn in Arizona, several of which have resulted in evacuations. Through June 25, more than 1,100 wildfires had burned more than 453,000 acres in Arizona, a 22% increase over the same period in 2020, the Arizona Republic reported

“You’d think that a state that had experienced the fires we have so far this season could add something to the conversation,” Karamargin said. 

Idaho Gov. Brad Little and Montana Gov. Greg Gianforte jointly wrote a letter to President Joe Biden on Wednesday expressing their disappointment that they weren’t invited to the meeting. They said they were “encouraged to learn” that he would meet with eight Western governors, but were displeased that he didn’t invite all Western governors who were grappling with the harsh wildfire season.

“While western states will spend the coming months fighting wildfires alongside federal partners on the ground, it is critical we have a federal partner in the White House who is willing to do what needs to be done year-round to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires,” the two governors wrote. “The federal government must work with states to actively and meaningfully manage our lands to reduce the risk of catastrophic wildfires.”

The Biden administration didn’t explain its rationale for excluding the governors of Arizona, Idaho and Montana. A statement from the White House said Biden wanted to meet with governors of several states, as well as private sector partners, who were affected by wildfires “who will bring a range of perspectives to best inform the discussion about federal-state partnerships on addressing wildfires and strengthening prevention, preparedness and response efforts.”

The White House invited governors “from a range of states, representing a wide range of both constituents and topography,” the statement said.

Biden is a Democrat while Ducey, Gianforte and Little are all Republicans. But partisanship alone wouldn’t explain why the three governors weren’t included. The White House invited the Republican governors of Utah and Wyoming, along with Democratic governors in California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon and Washington.

Ducey has been an outspoken critic of Biden’s policies on immigration and border security. During a visit to the border in March, Ducey slammed Biden for what he called a “man-made crisis” and faulted the president’s policies for the massive influx of migrants into the United States, saying he gave migrants the impression that “that our borders are open, that asylum policies have changed, and an amnesty bill is in the works.” Ducey also criticized Vice President Kamala Harris as the “worst possible choice” to oversee the Biden administration’s response to the border crisis.

The Ducey administration wouldn’t speculate on why the White House didn’t invite Arizona’s governor.

“I’m not going to speak to their motive, but I can tell you this — Arizona’s not waiting for the federal government to act … when it comes to fighting fires,” Karamargin said. “It’s their meeting. They can decide who attends. Do we think we could’ve added something to the discussion? Sure.”

Karamargin also noted that Ducey convened what he deemed a highly successful special session that resulted in a bipartisan vote to provide $100 million in funding to fight the wildfires raging in Arizona. Ducey called the special session during the height of the Telegraph fire, which threatened state Rep. David Cook’s home in Globe and burned a cabin belonging to the family of House Speaker Rusty Bowers near Miami.

According to the White House, the following people were invited to attend Wednesday’s meeting either in-person or virtually:

In-Person

  • Deb Haaland, Secretary of the Interior
  • Tom Vilsack, Secretary of Agriculture
  • Jennifer Granholm, Secretary of Energy
  • Alejandro Mayorkas, Secretary of Homeland Security
  • Michael Regan, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency
  • Kathleen Hicks, Deputy Secretary of Defense
  • Gina McCarthy, Assistant to the President and National Climate Advisor
  • Liz Sherwood-Randall, Assistant to the President for Homeland Security

Virtual

  • Kate Brown, Governor of Oregon
  • Spencer Cox, Governor of Utah
  • Mark Gordon, Governor of Wyoming
  • Jay Inslee, Governor of Washington
  • Michelle Lujan Grisham, Governor of New Mexico
  • Gavin Newsom, Governor of California
  • Jared Polis, Governor of Colorado
  • Steve Sisolak, Governor of Nevada
  • Ron Klain, Assistant to the President and Chief of Staff
  • Julie Rodriguez, Deputy Assistant to the President and Director for Intergovernmental Affairs
  • Caitlin Durkovich, Special Assistant to the President and NSC Senior Director for Resilience and Response
  • Deanne Criswell, Administrator of FEMA
  • Rick Spinrad, Administrator of National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
  • Shalanda Young, Acting Director of the Office of Management and Budget
  • Vicki Christiansen, Chief of the U. S. Forest Service
  • John Hairston, CEO of Bonneville Power Marketing Administration
  • Pedro Pizarro, President and CEO of Edison International
  • Maria Pope, President and CEO of Portland General Electric, Chair of the Edison Electric Institute (EEI) CEO Wildfire Task Force, and Co-chair of the Electric Subsector Coordinating Council (ESCC) Wildfire Working Group

“We know this is becoming a regular cycle, and we know it’s getting worse,” Biden said in a meeting with Cabinet officials at the White House, as well as with Western governors and private-sector leaders who joined virtually. “The threat of Western wildfires this year is as severe as it’s ever been.”

More than 1 million acres have burned across 12 Western states so far this year, according to estimates from the National Interagency Fire Center. In Arizona, the Telegraph Fire has burned more than 193,000 acres and destroyed or damaged at least 52 structures, while several large fires have forced closures and evacuations across central Colorado.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom joined Wednesday’s meeting from the Klamath National Forest in Siskiyou County, where the rapid growth of the Lava Fire and the Tenant Fire has prompted widespread evacuations in the area. The latest California blazes come a year after wildfires caused more than 33 deaths and burned nearly 4.4 million acres in the state’s worst fire season on record — and amid fears that 2021 could prove just as dangerous, or worse.

“These realities are here with us today,” Newsom said. “We have to have a sense of intentionality and responsibility, to radically change our vegetation and forest-management policies, our suppression policies, our pre-positioning policies.”

The Biden administration announced a series of actions on Wednesday to expand the federal government’s wildfire response and prevention capabilities, including additional aviation resources and the deployment of satellite-based early-detection technology, as well as FEMA grants for wildfire risk-mitigation projects and other prevention efforts. Biden also announced plans to award bonuses and incentives to wildland firefighters in an effort to increase pay and improve recruitment and retention as federal firefighting crews aim to staff up for longer, more intense fire seasons.

“The truth is we’re playing catch-up,” Biden said. “This is an area that has been under-resourced, but that’s going to change.”

Colorado Newsline reporter Chase Woodruff contributed to this story.

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Jeremy Duda
Jeremy Duda

Associate Editor Jeremy Duda is a Phoenix native and began his career in journalism in 2003 after graduating from the University of Arizona. Prior to joining the Arizona Mirror, he worked at the Arizona Capitol Times, where he spent eight years covering the Governor's Office and two years as editor of the Yellow Sheet Report. Before that, he wrote for the Hobbs News-Sun of Hobbs, NM, and the Daily Herald of Provo, Utah. Jeremy is also the author of the history book “If This Be Treason: the American Rogues and Rebels Who Walked the Line Between Dissent and Betrayal.”

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