January 16, 2020 / 4:03 PM / 9 days ago

U.S. presidential hopeful Bloomberg unveils plan to cut wildfire losses in half

(Reuters) - U.S. presidential hopeful Michael Bloomberg on Thursday unveiled a plan that he claims will halve property losses and deaths from catastrophic wildfires within four years, as part of a suite of initiatives to combat climate change.

FILE PHOTO: Democratic U.S. presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg addresses a news conference after launching his presidential bid in Norfolk, Virginia, U.S., November 25, 2019. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts/File Photo

The media billionaire and former New York City mayor would double the federal government’s fire budget to $10 billion a year to boost forest restoration, fire prevention and firefighting, his campaign told Reuters.

“This is a growing crisis and the federal government isn’t doing nearly enough to address it,” Bloomberg said in an email.

His plan, one of several directed at the impacts of climate change his campaign will outline this week, comes as increasingly deadly and destructive wildfires have plagued parts of the United States and Australia.

U.S. President Donald Trump, a Republican, has blamed poor forest management in California for massive blazes in the Golden State, angering its Democratic leaders. Most of the forests in California are under federal control.

“Better forest management will help to reduce the damage from wildfires,” said Bloomberg, the first presidential candidate to lay out goals to specifically address such fires.

“But we also need urgent, bold action to address climate change and the hotter, drier conditions that are making fires worse - which the president has refused to do.”

Bloomberg, who has advocated for climate policies for years, last month said he aimed to slash U.S. carbon emissions - blamed by scientists for global warming - by 50% in ten years if he is elected president in the November vote.

Bloomberg’s new plan is directed in part at winning over Californians in his campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination. California, the most populous state, is one of 14 states that will vote in primaries on Super Tuesday, March 3.

After a late entry into the presidential race, Bloomberg is waging a campaign to capture delegates in later contests, instead of focusing on early primaries like New Hampshire.

“No one should be asking for votes in California without a serious, comprehensive strategy for addressing wildfires,” Bloomberg said.

The plan would boost federal funds to make homes more resistant to fires, and provide loans and grants to utilities to reduce the risk of downed power lines.

It also envisions hiring thousands of workers in rural areas, dubbed the “Wildfire Corps,” to restore forests and fight fires.

Reporting by Nichola Groom; editing by Richard Valdmanis and Bernadette Baum

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