Wildfires put Republican meteorologist candidate in hot seat

Local Elections

Mark Ronchetti (left) and Ben Ray Lujan (KRQE)

SANTA FE, N.M. (AP) – Political clashes about the role of climate change in catastrophic West Coast infernos are spilling into a U.S. Senate race in New Mexico, where a Republican meteorologist is campaigning for an open seat.

U.S. Rep. and Democratic Senate nominee Ben Ray Luján accused rival Mark Ronchetti on Monday of engaging in “irresponsible and dangerous climate denialism.”

Luján highlighted a video clip from a Republican online forum in March in which Ronchetti says that “fires aren’t caused by anything other than a spark or a lightning strike. … Climate change doesn’t cause fires, come on.”

Ronchetti responded Monday with an acknowledgement that climate change needs to be addressed and that both “human activity” and drought are responsible for the vicious wildfires.

Ronchetti also partially endorsed President Donald Trump’s unfounded claim that poor forest management is to blame.

“I’ve been studying weather my entire professional life and so let me be perfectly clear – climate change is a real phenomenon that needs to be addressed,” Ronchetti said. “Wildfires in the West are caused by a variety of factors including lightning and human activity. These fires are made far worse by poor forest management in addition to drought conditions.”

U.S. Sen. Tom Udall is retiring.

In a visit to California on Monday, Trump ignored the scientific consensus that climate change is playing a central role in historic West Coast wildfires and said a failure to rake forest floors and clear dead timber is mostly to blame.

Democratic presidential challenger Joe Biden said stronger presidential leadership is needed and labeled Trump a “climate arsonist.”

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