Steinberg questions Brown’s wildfire proposal

Steinberg questions Brown’s wildfire proposal

01 June 2012

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USA — Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg signaled Friday that he’s uncomfortable with Gov. Jerry Brown’s proposal to limit legal liability for people who cause wildfires.

His statement comes days after meeting with Benjamin Wagner, the U.S. attorney in Sacramento, who opposes the proposal and has mounted a rare lobbying effort to stop it.

Wagner is suing Sierra Pacific Industries, the state’s largest timber company, for alleged negligence in the 2007 Moonlight fire. The company could be on the hook for $600 million, and the civil trial is scheduled to start July 2.

Brown’s proposal would limit the amount of money government agencies can recoup for battling wildfires and restoring damaged public lands, preventing them from seeking what his administration calls “excessive damages.” The timber industry says federal prosecutors have taken advantage of California laws to sue for much more than the land is actually worth.

Steinberg (D-Sacramento) did not take a position on the federal government’s case against Sierra Pacific, but told reporters that he is concerned that Brown’s proposal could affect an ongoing case.

“They’re silent on whether or not the legislation” would impact lawsuits that have already been filed, he said. “But that silence creates ambiguity in a way that could affect that litigation.”

Although Brown included the proposal on wildfire liability in his revised spending plan, Steinberg said he doesn’t want to act on it before the June 15 budget deadline.

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