After federal officials and California Democratic lawmakers raised objections, Gov. Jerry Brown's proposal to limit wildfire liability and impose a lumber tax has stalled for now.
The natural resources budget bill, Assembly Bill 1478, does not contain Brown's proposals to limit payouts in wildfire liability cases or allow timber companies to face less frequent reviews of tree-cutting plans for environmental impacts.
A separate, but related, idea to impose a 1 percent tax on lumber sold in California has not been introduced. That money would have provided additional funding for the state Department of Fish and Game and other regulatory agencies to review timber harvest plans. It was one aspect that environmentalists liked in the proposal, but many of them were suspicious of the liability change that was crucial to getting the lumber tax passed.
Timber companies and industry officials said that federal prosecutors had gone too far in their pursuit of damages after major wildfires. Union Pacific had to pay $102 million for a 2000 fire in Plumas and Lassen national forests, while a pending case against Sierra Pacific Industries and other landowners over the 2007 Moonlight fire could see damages as high as $600 million.
In his May budget proposal, Brown wanted to more narrowly tailor the criteria used for calculating wildfire damages to focus on restoration costs. State laws typically determine how federal courts determine wildfire awards.
But U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner assailed the plan and suggested that any change in liability could threaten his pending Moonlight case, scheduled to begin next week. Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, D-Sacramento, said later that his caucus had concerns about the liability changes.