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Morning News Brief: Wine Country Fires, Clean Power Plan


Picture this - more than a dozen wildfires clustered together all whipped up by this hot, dry wind.


Yeah, Rachel, that is the scene right now in northern California where at least 10 people have been killed in these fires that are ravaging the region's wine country, familiar-sounding places like Napa and Sonoma. And Sonoma is where Mickey Raymie (ph) awoke to her phone ringing.

MICKEY RAYMIE: I finally answered the phone and looked outside and right above my house was a huge, orange glow. And you could feel the heat, and the smoke was intense. And I knew the fire was very close to the house. So I started screaming at the kid and got them in the truck and just started driving. As we drove out of Kenwood, there was flames on both sides of the highway. We literally had to drive through it to get out.

GREENE: Raymie says she spent the entire night in her car. She is afraid to go inside because she just wants to keep an eye on those flames.

MARTIN: That's harrowing. All right, we're going to go to the Bay Area now. And KQED's John Sepulvado, he's been covering all this. John, what is the situation right now? What can you tell us? These fires, presumably, are still not contained this morning.

JOHN SEPULVADO, BYLINE: Yeah, they're not contained, Rachel. And we don't know when they'll be contained. Part of the problem right now is that the winds during the night that push off the ocean are what spread these fires. So the night time is actually the wrong time to try and get these - this containment in this particular area. We just heard right there, you know, so many stories from this area of people leaving the clutches of the flames, really courageous stories of neighbors hosing down other neighbors' property so that their families could get out.

I've heard several stories about people taking garden hoses to lawns to essentially fight the flames so people could get out, other first responders going door to door. And I think it's really important to note that while this is wine country and wine country has a certain connotation to it to the rest of the country...


SEPULVADO: ...There are some very impoverished folks. There are a lot of immigrants. And these fires have specifically hit construction that was kind of shoddily designed. So we're talking about mobile homes and lower-income housing.

This has really affected poor people.

MARTIN: These are all the people who support the industries that you might think of that come to mind, these, like, high-end wineries or restaurants. But as you say, there's a lot of income diversity there. Is there one story that stands out to you when you think about all the people who've had to evacuate? I mean, what's striking - it's just so close. These flames are so close to people.

SEPULVADO: Yeah, the one story, actually, is about a homeless camp. There's a significant homeless population that are up in the hills of this. And there is a homeless camp that is surrounded by fire that is not evacuating. And the reason they're not evacuating, some of them are wanted. They have criminal warrants out. Some of them have severe mental illness. And some of them have drug addictions. And I went up into the camp yesterday as this was happening to really talk and get an understanding of why they wouldn't leave.

The other thing I heard that was really ugly about that was that there were some homeless people who were trying to flee looking for help, but people with trucks and those people were ignoring them. So we're seeing the best of humanity there with the courageousness of the first responders and others. And we're seeing kind of the worst of humanity as well as some of the less among us are being completely ignored.

MARTIN: All right, we will keep following this for sure. KQED's John Sepulvado reporting there from San Francisco on the wildfires that have ravaged wine country. Thanks so much, John.

SEPULVADO: Thank you, Rachel.


MARTIN: Now a decision by the Trump administration that is roiling environmentalists.

GREENE: That's right. Scott Pruitt, the head of the Environmental Protection Agency, explained it yesterday when he was on a stage in eastern Kentucky.


SCOTT PRUITT: I'll be signing a proposed rule to withdrawal the so-called Clean Power Plan of the past administration and thus begin the effort to withdrawal that rule.


GREENE: And, Rachel, I've got to tell you, that applause went on and on and on. This was deep in coal country, a town called Hazard, Ky. And the Clean Power Plan, this Obama era policy would have steered states away from coal plants in an effort to limit greenhouse gas emissions.

MARTIN: All right, so the EPA officially moves to scrap that plan today. Tamara Keith is on the line. She hosts NPR's Politics Podcast and covers the White House for us. Hey, Tam.


MARTIN: Does this mean coal is coming back?

KEITH: Well, this is not a magical fix to some real structural challenges that are faced by the coal industry. And, sure, the industry has complained mightily about regulations, especially this one. But there's a bigger challenge for coal and that's cheaper and cleaner natural gas. Natural gas has been winning the battle for power plant dominance recently. And also, renewable energy has gotten much more inexpensive as time has gone on.

MARTIN: Well, so by that same token, does it make a big deal then that the Clean Power Plan would be rolled back because as you note, a lot of states, just for their own economic reasons, have already transitioned to cleaner kinds of energy.

KEITH: Well, and here's the other thing. The Clean Power Plan never took effect. The rule was finalized in late 2015 and has been held up in court ever since, including the Supreme Court, which granted a stay last year, preventing the rule from going into effect. And you're right. Some states have moved aggressively to control their own emissions and move away from coal power. Other states have not. And in those states, this repeal of the Clean Power Plan would allow them to continue on the same course. And that could make it harder for the U.S. to meet the goals of the Paris climate accord, which, of course, the president has already said he plans to...

MARTIN: Pulled out of, anyway.

KEITH: ...Pull out of. Yes, exactly.

MARTIN: So this isn't exactly a big surprise. Environmental groups knew that this was coming down the pike. But nonetheless, how are they responding?

KEITH: They're not happy about it. And states and environmental groups are actually lining up and preparing to sue once this becomes finalized. You know, the interesting thing though is just like the Clean Power Plan was this a long, slow, drawn out rulemaking process that involved a lot of legal challenges, this repeal is going to go through that very same process. So it's not going to happen immediately. But it's also not in effect.

MARTIN: The Trump administration, though, I mean, the EPA has a mandate to regulate carbon emissions. So they have to - if they take the Clean Power Plan away, they have to replace it with something, right?

KEITH: In theory, they do, though in a leaked document, the EPA says - and I'm going to read from it - (reading) it has not determined whether to promulgate a rule to regulate greenhouse gas emissions from existing power plants and if it will do so, when it will do so and what form that rule would take. That said, industry groups actually want something in place because they want some certainty.


KEITH: There's no guarantee that the next administration is going to have the same view about carbon emissions as the current administration.

MARTIN: All right, NPR's Tamara Keith. Thanks so much, Tam.

KEITH: You're welcome.


MARTIN: All right, David, if you dreaming about a holiday vacation in Istanbul, which you might be...

GREENE: I might be. I might be thinking about that.

MARTIN: You might want to rethink your travel plans.

GREENE: I think that might be good advice because the U.S. and Turkey have decided to stop issuing new visas for the moment. This comes after the arrest of an employee who works at the American Consulate in Istanbul.

MARTIN: NPR's Peter Kenyon is on the line from Istanbul. He is going to break this down for us and explain. So, Peter, explain.


MARTIN: What is going on?

KENYON: Right. Last week, police detained a man. He's been identified as Metin Topuz. He works at the consulate, the U.S. Consulate. And pro-government Turkish media very quickly started reporting that he's suspected of ties to the U.S.-based cleric Fethullah Gulen. You might remember, he was accused in a failed coup attempt last summer. He denies it. But the U.S. Embassy responded to the arrest by halting new visa processing at its embassy and other facilities.

Very quickly after that, the Turkish Embassy in Washington did basically the same thing. So you've got suspensions on both sides, and that's where it stands at the moment.

MARTIN: So - and the U.S. is saying that the employee did nothing wrong, presumably?

KENYON: Well, Ambassador John Bass says in a statement the Turkish government hasn't given them any information to suggest he did anything wrong. Bass was...

MARTIN: That's different.

KENYON: Slightly but it's careful. He was very critical of the leaks to the Turkish media, which reported this employee was suspected of talking with police. And those police allegedly have these ties to Gulen. Well, Ambassador Bass says this employee's job was talking with police. He's in charge of liaising with law enforcement on security issues. And he also used some pretty strong language saying this arrest raises questions of whether some officials are trying to disrupt cooperation between the U.S. and Turkey.

So kind of what we're seeing so far is an odd mix of airing grievances and hoping for a resolution.

MARTIN: But, I mean, this is a big deal, right? I mean, the U.S. and Turkey are close allies, especially in the fight against ISIS. And there's been all this tension between the U.S. and Turkey's President Erdogan. So this - I mean, this is complicated. This has huge repercussions, does it not?

KENYON: Well, it does. And that's why diplomats are very much hoping this doesn't escalate further. The Turkish prime minister today said this needs to be resolved immediately. And the big issues, as you mentioned, the fight against ISIS is one of them. I mean, American troops still use a Turkish air base to launch their anti-ISIS attacks. And that's despite anger inside Turkey over American support for Kurdish fighters in Syria. So, you know, Turkey is also very frustrated at America over this question of extraditing Fethullah Gulen.

So there's been a lot of anti-American sentiment here for about a year. And this certainly isn't going to decrease it. You know, if anything, it could get stronger.

MARTIN: All right, NPR's Peter Kenyon reporting there from Istanbul. The U.S. and Turkey have stopped issuing visas for people to come visit those countries, respectively. Hey, Peter, thanks so much for your reporting this morning.

KENYON: Thanks, Rachel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Rachel Martin is a host of Morning Edition, as well as NPR's morning news podcast Up First.
David Greene is an award-winning journalist and New York Times best-selling author. He is a host of NPR's Morning Edition, the most listened-to radio news program in the United States, and also of NPR's popular morning news podcast, Up First.
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