3:17 P.M. EDT
THE VICE PRESIDENT: Good afternoon, everyone. It’s Kamala Harris. And it is good to be with everyone today to address an issue that impacts the lives of tens of millions of Americans every year, and that is the topic of wildfires.
As many of you know, I am a proud daughter of California. And in recent decades, like millions of people who call the West home, I have observed a profound change. You know, we used to talk about wildfire season. Now, wildfire season is all year round.
Over the past 30 years, in fact, the number of acres burned per year by wildfire has more than doubled, and this is in large part the result of the climate crisis.
In fact, today, I hope many of you have seen — and if not, I urge you to read it — the United Nations released their newest climate report. And the assessment is: It’s dire. The window to limit global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius has nearly closed. The impact we see today — in lives lost, communities uprooted, and trillions of dollars in economic damages — is far greater than we had expected. And it’s only getting worse.
Please get your hands on the report if you’ve not read it.
But — but I want to — I also will say this: Our future is not yet written, and the solutions are at hand. So, let that be an alarm that lets us know that we must act with haste and we can actually, right now, have an impact on how this all plays out.
Particularly as it relates to wildfires, the climate crisis has made extreme heat and extreme drought more common, which makes it easier for fires to start and spread. This has resulted in catastrophic consequences for our communities.
I was on the ground in Santa Rosa in 2017 after the Tubbs Fire while the embers were still burning. In Paradise, I was there in 2018 after the Camp Fire. And in Fresno, I was there in 2020 after the Creek Fire. I have seen entire neighborhoods burned to the ground. I have been in neighborhoods where the only thing left standing were the chimneys, which looked almost like tombstones in that area.
And I have talked with families and — where they’ve been in — I’ve talked with them when they were in evacuation centers. I have talked with families who lost everything.
And I’ve also met with our firefighters, who are, without any question, the heroes, who often work 90-hour shifts when these wildfires are burning. They fight fires — I’ve met firefighters who have been fighting a fire even when they know their own home is burning. And who put their lives on the line to protect our communities.
So, it is clear that to address the crises that we are dealing with because of the climate crisis — and in particular the crisis of wildfires — we — I would urge us to transform how we think about how to fight them. Let’s transform how we think about fighting fires.
For years, for example, our nation has invested primarily in wildfire response, putting fires out after they start. But to meet this moment, how about if we expand our focus to invest not just in response but in prevention, which is, of course, about preparedness and resilience, because we know the best time to fight a fire is before it starts.
So, that is why today I am proud to announce we have invested $197 million in 100 communities across our nation through our new Community Wildfire Defense Grants program. These grants were established by the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and are based on legislation I authored as a United States Senator.
They will provide cities, towns, and counties and Tribes with the resources they need to protect communities from wildfires.
For example, in Arizona, Gila County: They will receive $341,000 for evacuation planning, community education, and clearing flammable brush from around buildings.
In North Carolina, where wildfires have become increasingly common, we will invest $1.4 million to help nearly 70 cities, towns, and counties develop plans to better prepare for and respond to fires.
And in California, the Kern County Fire Department will receive $2.2 million to train firefighters to conduct controlled burns and to educate homeowners on how to reduce wildfire risk.
So, the education, for example, would involve teaching homeowners and residents how to clean rain gutters of dry sticks and leaves, which end up being flammable agents in the — in the case of a wildfire; training folks on how to cover their vents to keep out flying embers.
So, this is the kind of work that is happening because of these grants. And these grants are the first — the ones that we’re — we’re announcing today are the first of many.
In the next four years, we will award a total of $1 billion in Community Wildlife [sic] Defense — Wildfire Defense Grants. And this is part of a more — a bigger package of about $7 billion in wildfire funds that our administration has secured and have already begun to hit the ground in communities across our nation.
For example, we are helping to equip communities with cutting-ed- — cutting-edge technology to keep people and property safe, including satellite technology.
This is actually, again, where innovation has changed the way we can think about addressing wildfires.
As some of you know, I head the National Space Council. Well, today, our nation uses satellite imagery for many things, including to predict where wildfires might start and to help firefighters spot small fires before they become big fires.
So, in conclusion, I’ll say this: All of these investments — we should think of it as a down payment. Since taking office, President Biden and our administration have made important progress in addressing the crisis of wildfires, but more needs to be done. And we’re going to continue to do everything in our power to keep families and communities and, of course, our brave firefighters safe.
So, thank you all for your interest, for covering this important topic. And I will now turn it over to a great leader, Secretary Tom Vilsack, who has been a champion for working families and for rural communities, and a leader on this issue as well.
Tom, over to you.
END 3:25 P.M. EDT