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Obama to propose changes to wildfire funding

Created: 02/24/2014 1:57 AM KAALtv.com
By: JULIE PACE

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Barack Obama's upcoming budget will include a proposal to change the way the federal government pays to fight wildfires, a White House official said Saturday.

The proposal is part of the White House's effort to ramp up its focus on what officials say are the growing impacts of climate change. The president will discuss the proposal Monday during a meeting with Western governors from states impacted by wildfires and drought.

Obama wants the Interior and Agriculture Departments, the two agencies tasked with fighting wildfires, to be able to draw funds from a special disaster account when the cost of tackling fires exceeds their annual budget. That's the same approach the federal government currently takes when responding to hurricanes and tornadoes.

The official said the new approach was aimed at providing more certainty for agencies fighting fires.

The proposal will be included in the annual budget Obama will send to Congress next month. The measure is similar to bipartisan legislation sponsored by Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., and Sen. Mike Crapo, R-Idaho.

The White House has been closely monitoring the severe drought gripping California and sparking fears of widespread wildfires. When Obama traveled to the state earlier this month to meet with officials and local farmers, he drew a connection between the drought and climate change.

"A changing climate means that weather-related disasters like droughts, wildfires, storms, floods are potentially going to be costlier and they're going to be harsher," Obama said.

The official was not authorized to discuss the details of the proposal by name and insisted on anonymity. The proposal was first reported by The New York Times.

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(Copyright 2014 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)