Joe Biden

Remarks on Wildfire Response Efforts and an Exchange With Reporters in Mather, California

September 13, 2021

The President. Well, folks—thank you, Governor, for those comments. I want to say good afternoon and—to all of you here in this cool hangar. [Laughter]

Earlier today we were briefed by the National Interagency Fire Center in Boise, Idaho. The center located—is a locational hub for our Federal firefighting resources in the region.

And we just surveyed some of the damage of the Caldor Fire here in California, which, in less than a month, has wiped out over 200,000 acres and 1,000 structures, homes; precious memories destroyed; air quality degraded; local economy stopped in its tracks; and nearly 200 people in the area forced to live in shelters.

Everyone in Northern California knows the time of the year when you can't go outside, when the air will be filled with smoke and the sky will turn an apocalyptic shade of orange. Parents worried about keeping their children safe in a pandemic worry about air quality as well.

Thus far, the—nationwide, over 44,000 wildfires have burned nearly 5,300,000 acres, roughly the size of the State of New Jersey. In California, this year, more than 2.2 million acres have burned; the Dixie Fire burned nearly 1 million alone.

And we're working closely with Governor Newsom to make sure California has every resource—every resource available—to keep families safe. And the Governor has led his State with poise and strong leadership. He's been an innovator in items of—for long-term solutions. And he and I are both optimistic.

These fires are blinking "code red" for our Nation. They are gaining frequency and ferocity, and we know what we have to do. And it starts with our firefighters putting their lives on the line in rugged and dangerous conditions.

I'll never forget coming out to Arizona in 2013 to speak at the memorial of the 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots who gave their lives. Firefighters are unmatched in their bravery. That's why I took the action I did in June to ensure that all Federal firefighters earn at least the minimum wage, and we're working on fundamentally changing the benefits that are available to them.

FEMA has approved 33 Fire Management Assistance Grants to help Western States pay for the cost of fighting these awful fires. We used the Defense Production Act to address the shortage in firehoses. Because of the pandemic, we found ourselves in a situation where there is a backlog in an awful lot of things. We restarted the idle production line in Oklahoma, bringing back to work and delivering thousands of new feet of new firehoses to the frontlines. It's hard to believe: short on firehoses.

In addition, we've tapped DOD, the Department of Defense, for 10 aircraft; 20 C-130s, a Modular Airborne Fire Fighting Systems—with those systems; and, to help our fire suppression, the RC-26 aircraft to provide critical imagery from space. They're based in California, and they have now flown over 1,000 missions across the West.

Two hundred and fifty Active Duty military troops on ground—on the ground at Dixie Fire in California, working alongside firefighters. We're sharing satellite imagery to help detect and monitor fire growth. And the EPA is using new technology to deliver fire, smoke, and air quality information directly to people's cell phones.

Our friends from Canada and Australia are providing help through both firefighters as well as aircraft.

And my Build Back Better plan includes billions of dollars for wildfire preparedness, resilience, and response; forest management to restore millions of acres and to protect homes and public water sources.

This bipartisan bill includes more than $8 billion to increase resilience in wildfires. And, add to that, counting resolution packages include—the continuing resolution package includes $14 billion in disaster needs, including $9 billion for communities hit by wildfire and drought. We're not going to leave these people in distress.

We know that decades of forest management decisions have created hazardous conditions across the Western forests, but we can't ignore the reality that these wildfires are being supercharged by climate change. It isn't about red or blue States, it's about fires. Just fires.

In the past 2 weeks, I've been to Louisiana, where Hurricane Ida hit, and with winds up to 179 miles an hour, gusting; New Jersey and New York, walking down the streets—Main Streets—meeting with families and first responders, seeing the destruction of these disasters caused: dreams crushed, lives interrupted. Scientists have been warning us for years that extreme weather is going to get more extreme. We're living it in real time now.

Extreme weather cost America, last year, $99 billion. Let me say it again: Extreme weather in the United States cost the United States of America a total of $99 billion. And this year, unfortunately, we're going to break that record. It's a devastating loss to our economy and for so many communities.

When we fail to curb pollution from smokestacks and tailpipes and continue to use fossil fuels as we do, we increase risk that firefighters face. But each dollar we invest in resilience saves up to $6 down the road when the next fire doesn't spread as wisely—as widely, and those investments also save lives.

When I think about climate change, I think about not the cost; I think about good-paying jobs it will create. But I also think about the jobs we're losing due to impacts on the supply chains and industries because we haven't acted boldly enough.

We have to build back—and you've heard me say it a hundred times—not just build back, but build back better, as one Nation. We've got to do it together. We'll get through this together. We just have to keep the faith.

Folks, we have the bipartisan infrastructure bill that's been passed, and it's bipartisan. And I believe we'll get done the so-called reconciliation bill that has another several trillion dollars in it.

Let me close by saying: When people talk about the cost of the Build Back Better proposal beyond the infrastructure, let me remind you: The cost may be as much as $3.5 trillion. But to put that in perspective, it's spent out over 10 years, number one. And number two, it's expected the economy—our economy will grow to $366 trillion GDP by that time. That's less than 1.5 percent total in terms of deficit of that total amount. In addition to that, the—90 percent of it is paid for.

And so, folks, we have to think big. Thinking small is a prescription for disaster. We're going to get this done. This Nation is going to come together, and we are going to beat this climate change.

Thank you.

Wildfire Response and Recovery Efforts

Q. Mr. President, what do you think about the Governor misrepresenting his administration's wildfire efforts?

The President. He didn't.

NOTE: The President spoke at 4:29 p.m. in the Sacramento County Maintenance Service Hangar at Mather Airport. In his remarks, he referred to H.R. 3684.

Joseph R. Biden, Remarks on Wildfire Response Efforts and an Exchange With Reporters in Mather, California Online by Gerhard Peters and John T. Woolley, The American Presidency Project

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