California

A quarter of Californians believe climate change is behind the state’s worsening wildfires

“It’s part of the state’s DNA,” Gov. Gavin Newsom talks climate change and wildfire risk

Gov. Gavin Newsom announced April 12, 2019 a panel's findings that California should change its laws on wildfire liabilities, giving PG&E and other utilities more protection against billion-dollar claims.
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Gov. Gavin Newsom announced April 12, 2019 a panel's findings that California should change its laws on wildfire liabilities, giving PG&E and other utilities more protection against billion-dollar claims.

More than a quarter of California voters believe that climate change is the leading cause for the increasingly devastating wildfires that hit the state.

The polling firm FM3 Research found that a plurality of California voters surveyed (27 percent) said climate change is behind state wildfires. Another 17 percent of voters believe that human error is the leading cause of wildfires, 12 percent believe it’s forest mismanagement and 11 percent believe it’s drought.

Smaller shares of California voters believe overpopulation and development, utility companies, natural causes, arson and insufficient firefighters are the primary causes of the state’s wildfires.

Overall, 73 percent of voters listed wildfires as an extremely serious problem facing the state, putting it behind homelessness (87 percent) and housing affordability (76 percent) among challenges that most worry Californians. Sixty percent of Californian voters believe climate change is a serious threat.

As for who is responsible for bearing the cost of those wildfires, a plurality of voters (41 percent) believe the government should shoulder the burden, while just 13 percent said utilities such PG&E should carry the cost.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has proposed creating a $24 billion fund to help the state pay for future wildfire costs. Newsom has opted to leave it to PG&E to cover the cost of 2017 and 2018’s deadly Northern California fires.

A majority of voters (54 percent) believe utilities should not be required to pay for wildfire damages as long as they “take reasonable steps to prevent fires, like upgrading their equipment and clearing trees and brush around it.”

However, 39 percent of voters believe utilities should always pay for wildfires connected to their equipment, regardless of negligence.

FM3 Research polled 800 likely California voters, over both landline and cellphone, between June 22-25.

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Andrew Sheeler covers California’s unique political climate for McClatchy. He has covered crime and politics from Interior Alaska to North Dakota’s oil patch to the rugged coast of southern Oregon. He attended the University of Alaska Fairbanks.
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