US VP Harris to announce $1bn to states for floods, extreme heat

The grants will help communities across the nation prepare for and respond to growing climate-related disasters.

Kamala Harris speaking at an event in Miami, Florida.
Vice President Kamala Harris is expected to announce grants to defend against extreme weather events across the country [Lynne Sladky/AP]

Kamala Harris, the vice president of the United States, has called climate change an “immediate” and “urgent” crisis as she detailed Biden administration efforts to respond to disasters such as the deadly flooding in Kentucky and wildfires ravaging her home state of California.

Harris on Monday was set to announce more than $1bn in grants available to states to address flooding and extreme heat exacerbated by climate change. The competitive grants are designed to help communities across the nation prepare for and respond to climate-related disasters.

Visiting the National Hurricane Center before the grant announcement, Harris said that disasters such as the Kentucky flood and California wildfires show “how immediate, how current and how urgent the issue is of addressing the extreme weather that we’ve been experiencing around the country and the world”.

“The frequency has accelerated in a relatively short period of time,” Harris said. “The science is clear. Extreme weather will only get worse, and the climate crisis will only accelerate.”

In 2021, the US experienced 20 climate-related disasters that each caused more than $1bn in damage, Harris said, citing a report by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. There were about six such disasters per year in the 1990s.

The visit comes as the White House is leading a government-wide response to climate disasters that “recognises the urgency of this moment and our ability to do something about it,” she said.

The vice president was at the hurricane centre for a briefing before visiting Florida International University, where she is expected to announce the grants.

President Joe Biden announced last month that the administration will spend $2.3bn to help communities cope with soaring temperatures through programmes administered by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), the Department of Health and Human Services and other agencies.

The move doubles spending on the Building Resilient Infrastructure and Communities, or BRIC, programme, which supports states, local communities, tribes and territories on projects to reduce climate-related hazards and prepare for natural disasters.

“Communities across our nation are experiencing firsthand the devastating impacts of the climate change and the related extreme weather events that follow — more energised hurricanes with deadlier storm surges, increased flooding and a wildfire season that’s become a year-long threat,” FEMA head Deanne Criswell said.

A man runs to a truck as a wildfire called the McKinney fire burns in Klamath National Forest, California.
Vice President Kamala Harris pointed to the wildfires in California as evidence of the urgency of addressing climate change [Noah Berger/AP]

The funding announced on Monday will “help to ensure that our most vulnerable communities are not left behind, with hundreds of millions of dollars ultimately going directly to the communities that need it most,” Criswell said.

A total of $1bn will be made available through the BRIC programme, with a further $160m to be offered for flood mitigation assistance, officials said.

Jacksonville, the largest city in Florida, was among cities that received money under the BRIC programme last year. The city was awarded $23m for flood mitigation and stormwater infrastructure. Jacksonville sits in a humid, subtropical region along the St Johns River and Atlantic Ocean, making it vulnerable to flooding when stormwater basins reach capacity. The city experiences frequent flooding and is at risk for increased major storms.

The South Florida Water Management District in Miami-Dade County received $50m for flood mitigation and pump station repairs. Real estate development along the city’s fast-growing waterfront has created a high-risk flood zone for communities in the city and put pressure on existing systems, making repairs to existing structures an urgent need, officials said.

The Biden administration has launched a series of actions intended to reduce heat-related illness and protect public health, including a proposed workplace heat standard.

Source: AP