What About Federal Help, Climate Change?
Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin’s press conference Monday, which was at least partially about the drought and excessive heat, is most remarkable for what it didn’t include.
Fallin argued that legislators need to replenish the State Emergency Fund, which now holds only $944, with obligations of $36 million. The fund, which reimburses local entities after damaging weather events, has apparently not paid anything out since 2007.
According to an accompanying news release, “In the event of a presidential disaster declaration, the Federal Emergency Management Agency reimburses municipalities and other qualifying entities for 75 percent of the cost of any infrastructure damage. The State of Oklahoma covers 12.5 percent of that cost using the State Emergency Fund, and the qualifying entity covers 12.5 percent.”
Fair enough, but what the release lacks is any sort of substantial acknowledgement—dare we say “gratitude”—that the federal government has been carrying most of the burden when it comes to the state’s recent damaging weather. It’s as if the 75 percent federal share of the costs doesn’t even exist or that Oklahoma isn’t a state that in the past has received far more from the federal government than it pays in taxes or that it isn’t one of the top states that relies on the federal government for emergency funds.
Instead, out here on the scorching prairie, we get this type of individualistic rhetoric from Fallin:
I’m also extremely proud of our citizens, who continue to remind us why Oklahoma is such a great community. Church groups, individual citizens and groups like the American Red Cross have done so much during this crisis, whether it’s reaching out to those who have just lost their homes in a wildfire, or just making an air-conditioned ‘cool down’ station available for neighbors without power.
Well, then, let the church groups shoulder the $36 million and the 75 percent federal share of costs. That’s not going to happen.
Another important point Fallin’s comments lack is some type of call for scientific study to determine if Oklahoma is headed for an extended period of drought and excessive heat.
This is from Fallin’s statement:
The kind of sustained heat wave and drought we saw this summer creates a full spectrum of hazards for the state of Oklahoma: it’s a health hazard, it creates wildfires; it withers crops in the field and starves livestock; and it’s a destructive force for our economy. Relief efforts required a full range of government and private sector action, including fire suppression, public health efforts, law enforcement, agricultural aid and direct community assistance. I’m extremely proud of the way our government agencies worked together to provide an effective response to the ongoing drought.
That’s true, but is Oklahoma getting warmer because of climate change? Are we headed for an extended warming period? Doesn’t that deserve some study? In July, Oklahoma became the state with the hottest average monthly temperature in weather-recorded history. Wouldn’t ranchers, farmers and even investors want to know if we’re headed for a 20-year drought? Wouldn’t everyone want to know if 108-degree summer days are just going to be part of the norm here?
Undoubtedly, Fallin can’t bring this issue up because it might mean a discussion of global warming. Oklahoma’s U.S. Sen. Jim Inhofe believes global warming is a political hoax, and that’s pretty much the GOP political line here. But let’s be clear for the editorial writers at The Oklahoman. No, one tremendously hot summer does not prove global warming, guys, but the July record alone demands scrutiny at the short-term and long-term level. It’s irresponsible to ignore it.