LA lawmaker blasts Scott's climate refugee remarks as `stupid'

A congressman for a California county hit by wildfires is lashing out at Gov. Phil Scott for his unscripted comment that U.S. residents fleeing the effects of climate change could prove an "economic boon" to Vermont.

In a news release, Democratic Rep. Ted Lieu called Scott's statements "insensitive and stupid." Lieu represents part of Los Angeles County.

Scott told reporters earlier this month that wildfires and other disasters could bring new revenue to Vermont, while the state could be insulated from climate events by its location and topography.

Scott also said he didn't actually know whether climate change would help Vermont's economy or hurt it, since he hadn't posed the question to the state's scientists, economists or other analysts.

"Climate change could be in some ways beneficial to Vermont, when we're seeing some of the activity in California today, with the wildfires and so forth, and lack of water in some regions of the country, if we protect our resources we could use this as an economic boon, in some respects," Scott said.

Lieu said the wildfires in California and elsewhere "have hurt millions of Americans, with many families losing everything they own. No elected official should ever hope for disasters to happen."

He also characterized Scott's comments as stupid "because it is hard to take advantage of an economic dislocation if we destroy our planet in the process."

A spokesman from Lieu's office said Scott's remarks came at an especially unfortunate time for Californians.

"Stuff was still smoldering in our district when this guy was saying this stuff. It seemed in poor taste," said Marc Cevasco, Lieu's chief of staff, on Wednesday. At the time of Scott's remarks, Californians in Lieu's district were "returning to homes that had been turned to rubble," Cevasco said.

But even the premise itself, that Vermont might profit off other Americans' suffering, Cevasco rejected as "stupid" and "immoral."

Global warming "will make the lives of people in Vermont worse, just like it will make the lives of people across the country worse," Cevasco said. "Even if there was a place protected completely, and it was in a bubble it would be an immoral response to it. It doesn't speak to the better angels of the American character."

Scott's spokeswoman, Rebecca Kelley, said the governor extends sincere sympathy to Lieu, his constituents and other Californians harmed by the wildfires. "California is in the governor's thoughts as its communities continue to respond and recover," she said.

Lieu's statement also offered the chance to "set the record straight on Gov. Scott's record and commitment to addressing climate change," Kelley said.

In just his first 11 months in office, Kelley said, Scott "committed to achieving the state's existing renewable energy goals," joined groups aimed at stemming climate change, spoke at a climate summit, proposed a two-week tax holiday on electric vehicles, and upheld Vermont's existing environmental standards and policies.

Sara Solnick, an economics professor and the chair of the University of Vermont economics department, said Scott's reasoning isn't off base when it comes to economic principles.

"It's very normal that people are lacking something and without that need they can't fulfill themselves, there's no reason to buy anything," Solnick said. "Maybe it's impolite for governors to talk about, but businesses or people in responsibility, like governors, they need to talk about the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead."

New England has seen an exodus of residents for some time, as has the Midwest, Solnick said. Simultaneously, the Southwest has seen a growing number of immigrants. It wouldn't be outrageous to expect these trends to reverse in the face of global warming, she suggested.

"There are constantly winners and losers with every kind of change," she said. "There are changes in population, changes in technology, changes in people's preferences. Changes in climate trends are another thing that are going to cause shifts in society and shifts in markets. There are definitely going to be (people who benefit and) people that are more harmed."

State Democratic leaders said the governor's remarks don't match Vermonters' view of climate change.

"Gov. Scott's comments were incredibly insensitive and contrary to our values," said Vermont Democratic Party Executive Director Conor Casey. "We agree with Congressman Lieu that climate change is a threat to humanity, not an `economic boon,' as stated by our governor."


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