By Steve Holland
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – President Barack Obama will pledge on Friday to speed federal assistance to help California recover from a crippling drought that is threatening the critical agriculture industry in the No. 1 farm state.
On a visit to Fresno, California, Obama will promise to make available within 60 days up to $100 million in aid to help California farmers who lost livestock due to drought conditions. For livestock producers across the country, about $1 billion will be available for them.
The assistance was contained in a $956 billion farm bill that Congress passed and he signed last week.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack told reporters in a preview of the announcement that Obama will offer “a message of hope and a message that the federal government will do all it can to try to alleviate some of the stress connected with this drought.”
During his remarks there, Obama will draw a connection between what is being called the worst California drought in 100 years and global warming.
Given congressional gridlock over the issue, Obama may be building a case to impose some measures this year against climate change via executive order, part of an effort to take actions where he can with or without congressional approval.
John Holdren, Obama’s top adviser on science and technology, said the global climate has been so extensively impacted by “the human-caused buildup of greenhouse gases that weather practically everywhere is being influenced by climate change.”
He said the California drought is probably the strongest of the past 500 years.
“They’ve always had droughts in the American West of course, but now the severe ones are getting more frequent, they’re getting longer and they’re getting drier,” he told reporters on a conference call.
Obama is traveling to California to meet Jordan’s King Abdullah on Friday night at Sunnylands, a desert retreat in Rancho Mirage. The Valentine Day’s summit is expected to include dinner. Obama will stay on at Sunnylands for the long holiday weekend to play golf.
Obama and Abdullah, who spent much of the week in Washington meeting various U.S. officials, are to discuss efforts to bring a negotiated end to the civil war in Syria. Jordan has absorbed many thousands of refugees from the Syrian civil war.
California is coming off its driest year on record and a recent winter storm did little to dull the impact of the drought in the state that produces half the country’s fruits and vegetables. A recent drought monitor said 91.6 percent of the state is experiencing severe to exceptional drought.
Obama will announce $15 million in aid to help farmers and ranchers implement water conservation practices. This includes $5 million for California and $10 million for hard-hit areas in Texas, Oklahoma, Nebraska, Colorado and New Mexico.
Among other measures, Obama will said he has directed federal facilities in California to take steps to immediately curb water use, including a moratorium on new landscaping projects that are not deemed essential.
California Governor Jerry Brown made a similar directive to state agencies last month in declaring a drought emergency.
(Reporting By Steve Holland; Editing by Cynthia Osterman)