Commerce chief scolds California over environmental policies he says hinder firefighters: ‘Lives are at stake’

The latest fight between the Trump administration and California’s liberal politicians has been over water.

The Trump administration believes the state’s stringent environmental protection policies are hampering efforts by firefighters to fight the largest fire in state history.

In a tweet sent Monday, President Trump said water that can be used for fires in California is “foolishly” being diverted into the Pacific Ocean.

“Think of California with plenty of Water - Nice! Fast Federal govt. approvals,” Trump tweeted.

On Wednesday, the federal government officially stepped in. Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross ordered the National Marines Fisheries Service, which is under his jurisdiction, to take control of water use in California and override any efforts to protect endangered species.

"The protection of life and property takes precedence over any current agreements regarding the use of water in the areas of California affected by wildfires," Ross said in a statement.

The directive asks the federal agency to “make clear” that water can be used as necessary to fight the fires, even if they impact endangered species. 

The National Marine Fisheries Service works with the state to protect the delta smelt and Chinook salmon, two fish species under threat because of California's drought, according to ABC News. The two agencies limit the amount the water taken from rivers to protect fish.

Several fires have consumed large swaths of California. One of them, the Mendocino Complex Fire, has become the largest in state history.

Water from ponds, lakes and reservoirs near the fires can be used to battle the blazes, whether it is scooped up by helicopter and dumped on the flames or drawn out by pumps and sprayed.

“American lives and property are at stake and swift action is needed,” Ross said.

But state fire officials say they don't need more water to fight the fires raging across the state. Neither federal nor state officials said if direct action was being taken in response.

Mike Mohler, deputy director for the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, said he doesn't know if the Trump administration had contacted any California state agencies before issuing Wednesday's directive.

Critics blasted the directive and Trump’s statement blaming environmental policies on why the fires can’t be tamed.

"Despite the president's tweet, there's zero connection between the fires and the amount of water that is available to fight them," Peter Gleick, founder of the Pacific Institute think tank, told the Washington Post. "And yet all of the sudden, now the federal agencies are starting to actually implement policies based on this completely false idea that will end up rolling back federal environmental protections. It's weaponizing an ignorant tweet from the president."

Gov. Jerry Brown has not commented.

Includes reporting by The Associated Press.

Jonathan Hunt currently serves as a New York-based chief correspondent for FOX News Channel (FNC). Hunt joined the network in 2002 as an international correspondent based in Los Angeles.