Hatfield -McCoy mentality has no place in addressin firefighting needs
Some disagreements in our culture and in our politics are so deep-seated that they will almost certainly never be reconciled between warring sides.
Michael Bloomberg and the gun-control crowd will never be made to see eye-to-eye with NRA gunny-in-chief Wayne LaPierre and the rest of us who cling to our firearms.
James Dobson will never be invited as keynote speaker at the annual convention of National Abortion Rights Action League, nor will NARAL be giving a PowerPoint presentation on reproductive rights to the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in this lifetime.
Tea partiers will forever be wary of the GOP establishment, the Sierra Club will always hate coal-fired power plants, conservatives will always hate the Sierra Club, MSNBC will never have a show called “The O’Reilly Factor” and the Hatfields will never break bread with the McCoys.
You see the point here.
On some matters of conscience, our differences are just too profound for common ground. On these matters, we must accept the lions and the lambs will never lie together.
I’m good with this.
What I am not good with is that an ever-growing list of practical governing questions — issues that do not implicate any great cause for ideological disagreement — get shunted into the category of Hatfield-and-McCoy-style conflict.
The tragedy of the American political system these days is that our leaders can’t find common ground,even on utterly-non-partisan public safety issues — issues that are so straightforward, so obviously in need of addressing that they might reasonably be called mundane.
A powerful example of this occurred last week, when Republicans and Democrats indulged in a round of verbal volleying on whether the state of Colorado should have its own fleet of tankers to provide quick response to wildfires.
The argument is an important one because the federal government, with all of its trillions in spending, can only manage to cobble together enough cash to fund eight super-slurry bombers for the entire nation. This dearth of high-value firefighting assets puts wildfire-prone states like ours in the position of having to figure out how to solve an obviously important problem that Washington won’t.
Last week, Republicans hammered Democrats for refusing to fund legislation that authorized the state to launch its own tanker fleet. A bipartisan bill, authored by our own Sen. Steve King, passed the Legislature this year and sets the stage for the state to get into the business of aerial wildfire suppression. Democrats, however, stripped funding from the bill, saying the state lacked resources.
The fight over a state-controlled tanker fleet took place against the backdrop of another horrific Colorado wildfire. More than 500 homes in outlying El Paso County were destroyed and two residents died. The fire was the most destructive in the state’s history, trumping the Waldo Canyon fire from last year.
Last year, major wildfires destroyed hundreds of homes and forced tens of thousands of evacuations in suburban and rural communities across the state. This year is poised to be as bad, or worse. People are dying. Property is being destroyed. There is no special-interest group that lobbies on behalf of wildfire.
OK, this is something we should be able to work together on, or so one would think. And of course, one would be wrong.
The know-it-alls in the popular press pooh-poohed the tanker argument last week, chalking it up to trivial politicization of a tragedy.
But trivial this is not. Reams of science show that early, overwhelming response to wildfires is the only hope for communities that interface over-grown, dried-out forests. Until large-scale hazardous fuels reduction occurs over millions of at-risk acres, the rapid dispatch of large-scale firefighting assets — air tankers — is the one thing that can keep routine fires from becoming community-destroying conflagrations.
The capital cost of purchasing a fleet is about $20 million. The operating cost is less than $10 million annually. That’s not nothing, but it isn’t impossible, either. Find a way to get it done, for Pete’s sake.
There are, after all, plenty of Hatfield-and-McCoy arguments to be had. Protecting homes and people from wildfire need not be one.
Josh Penry is a former minority leader of the Colorado Senate. He is a graduate of Grand Junction High School and Mesa State College.