Kamala Harris photo

Remarks by the Vice President on Wildfire Preparedness and Resilience in San Bernardino, California

January 21, 2022

THE VICE PRESIDENT: Thank you, Sarah. Today means many things, as has been said. But for the President and me, one of the most important aspects of this visit today is the important responsibility that we all have to thank the men and women who serve so selflessly with such incredible courage and commitment to their community.

People like Sarah, like Chief, they are prepared to give their lives for perfect strangers. They do work every day that requires the highest level of professionalism, skill, dedication, and commitment.

And so, on behalf of the President and myself and our country, I want to thank all the men and women who serve in such difficult times but always with such grace. Thank you, Sarah. And thank you, Chief. (Applause.)

Secretary of Agriculture Vilsack, I want to thank you. We've known each other for quite some time. He has it in his heart, as well as with the experience he brings to the task of being the Secretary with many obligations and responsibilities.

But on this one, he has put together a 10-year plan that is extraordinary, that is in-depth, and that meets this moment in the way that we need and in the way that is about looking at the future -- being able to see what is in front of us clear-eyed, and then be prepared to meet the challenge and get in front of it.

So, I want to thank you, Secretary, for all that you do and for being with me today.

Governor Newsom, I want to thank you. You know, the President and I -- I think, actually, even perhaps before we were sworn in, but certainly around that time, which is a year ago -- had been convening governors from the western states, in particular, to address the -- this epidemic, if you will, of wildfires.

And Governor Newsom has been a leader among leaders in being a forceful voice around the importance of the federal, state, and local relationship and partnership; and has been a clear voice about what is important in terms of preparing for the next wave, in addition to what we must do to provide relief in terms of the disasters that have already occurred.

Governor Newsom, I want to thank you. (Applause.)

Senator Padilla and Congressman Aguilar -- Chairman -- I want to thank you both. I was joking with them earlier: The President and I and all of us could not do what we're doing, in terms of the announcements today, were they not in the United States Congress producing all of the leadership that is important for those checks to get -- to get drawn so that they can be signed. They advocate in an extraordinary way. And I happen to know, because of my four years in the Senate, that it is not always easy.

You know the western states have a particular need around wildfires. There's been so much about the history and tradition of federal response to national -- or to natural disasters that has been grounded on natural disasters that are not wildfires. Take, for example, hurricanes, tornadoes.

And the -- this epidemic of wildfires is relatively new -- in that there have always been wildfires in one form or another, but the frequency and the intensity and the ubiquity of wildfires just in the last couple of years, as the governor talked about, is extraordinary and requires our federal government to see what is happening and act in real time.

And that is the work that is finally happening in a way that the government and the federal government is not slow to react but has been quick to react to deal with the needs that are present and are -- and are serious in terms of the impact on real life, property, and the wellbeing of whole communities.

I am a daughter of California -- a proud daughter of California, so I bring, perhaps, to this issue -- (applause) -- a bit of personal experience: growing up where we had droughts, growing up in these conditions, understanding the seriousness of being able to respond quickly.

Our family -- in the last few years, we've -- we had evacuation orders because of the wildfires. So, I understand from personal experience how many people in a state of 40 million people -- and when you talk about western states, you're talking about tens of millions of people -- are under threat of these kinds of disasters.

I personally was on the ground and visited after the Tubbs Fire in Santa Rosa in 2017. I was on the ground at Paradise in 2018 during the Camp Fire, and the Creek Fire in Fresno in 2020 where the governor and I -- Governor Newsom and I visited.

The extraordinary courage of these firefighters is the kind of courage that includes them fighting fires while they are aware that their own home may be burning. I've met firefighters who were fighting fires while their own home was burning.

We are talking about firefighters in terms of the forestry service -- the U.S. Forestry Service, who have been working in response to these extreme fires around the clock. These are folks who aren't saying, "My time is up. My shift is over." They work multiple shifts, often without enough sleep, and certainly without enough rest in terms of dealing with the danger that they face every day and what that requires from the human spirit to be able to take it on and run into danger to prevent that danger from spreading to other human beings.

So, the work the President and I are doing is about meeting this moment, understanding that the climate crisis has almost everything to do with what we are seeing in terms of the crisis of wildfires. It is about recognizing that we cannot -- as a government or as a society or people who care -- only respond in reaction to a moment of harm or danger.

We must also be able to use technology and common sense and the expertise of those on the ground to understand, we have the tools to predict these wildfires ahead of time. And once we are able to then do that, does it not compel us to say, "What are we doing to prevent the knowable or the predictable?"

So, so much of what we are doing today is about an announcement that is about a federal, a state, and a local collaboration around preparedness and what we can do to engage in resilience -- meaning what we can do to strengthen communities so if they are hit, that they can bounce back. And before that, what can we do to help communities so that not only are we dealing with forests, but we are talking with homeowners and reaching out to communities to figure out how we can support them -- to create a community that is less likely to be so significantly damaged if a fire should hit.

So, this is the best way to fight, -- we believe -- is to focus not only on reaction, but on prevention. What can we do in terms of resilience?

So, today we are announcing, as the Secretary mentioned, $48 million for an approach to the country that is really about making forests healthier and safer. And it is focused on what we need to do to be resilient to wildfires and to deal with what we can do to support communities, in terms of their resilience.

The other important announcement we are making today is that we are committing $1.3 billion to disaster relief funding, including $600 million for California. (Applause.)

And, again, some of the work that we've been doing and that these congressional leaders have been doing -- we've been doing in the administration -- is to realize that so many of the traditions around our federal agencies, in response to disasters and natural disasters, has not been focused necessarily on the nature and pathology of fires. And so, we are working with this funding to make sure that we are putting the resources where they are needed to address the unique challenges that fires present.

And this is in addition to the investments that we have made in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. I can't talk enough about what we were able to accomplish with that law -- bipartisan -- that is going to directly benefit this issue.

Specifically, there will be $5 billion -- and more, actually -- for wildfire preparedness and resilience. And it will include -- and this requires its own conversation -- a pay raise for our federal firefighters. (Applause.)

And I invite everyone to become familiar with the history of this issue and for how long they have been underpaid, given the nature and value of their work. And so, we are very, very excited to acknowledge their work not only in words, but with the pay that recognizes the value of the skill and the dignity of the work that they perform.

We are also, as part of the Bipartisan Inf- -- Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, announcing $1 billion in wildfire defense grants. That is based on some legislation that I sponsored when I was in the Senate and work that is being done by our Congress.

And third, funding for satellite wildfire tracking programs. As you know, I had the Space Council for the United States. And I invite everyone -- when you are able to come to D.C., Governor -- to join the Senator and the Congressman and the Secretary and me and come out to Goddard, which is where we -- you can see satellites that the United States is sending to literally do everything, of course, that we can do with satellite technology, from GPS to all of the things that you benefit from. But the satellites that we've got up there that allow us to predict the track of fires, but also to see those areas of a state that are prone to fire, so that we can put the resources there ahead of time. And again, about prevention and what we can do to invest in resilience.

So, this is some exciting work.

And I'll close my comments by saying this: This is a subject that requires us to understand that when we, as a country, get in front of an issue, it is not because of any one leader or any one approach. It is because there's collaboration. It is because there's a recognition that the work that happens on the ground usually requires great skill -- skill and hard work that should be rewarded.

There is the work that is about collaboration between governments. We are our best when local, state, and federal work together hand-in-hand, unencumbered by politics or partisanship.

There is the work that we do as community -- to continue to inform the community about what is available to them, so they can exercise their power to keep their families and themselves safe.

The work we are announcing today and celebrating today is a function of all of those approaches. And I'm very proud of the folks who, in particular, are on the ground doing this work every day.

As I said before, I will say again, you inspire us all. Thank you. (Applause.)

Kamala Harris, Remarks by the Vice President on Wildfire Preparedness and Resilience in San Bernardino, California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project https://www.presidency.ucsb.edu/node/354217

Filed Under





Simple Search of Our Archives