WASHINGTON – The Biden government said it would spend $ 1 billion to help communities prepare for worsening disasters. This is the latest sign of the toll that climate change is already taking in the US.
The change will double the current size of a Federal Emergency Management Agency program that provides state and local governments with money to reduce their vulnerability to disaster – for example, by building walls, elevating or relocating flood-prone homes.
“We will spare no expense or effort to ensure the safety of Americans,” said Biden during a visit to FEMA headquarters on Monday to find out about this year’s hurricane season. “We can never be too prepared.”
The new money is less than indicated by some disaster experts, especially as the warming planet makes storms, floods, forest fires, and other disasters more frequent and more destructive. The United States saw 22 disasters last year, each causing more than $ 1 billion in damage, a record.
The formula that sets the funding would have allowed the administration to allocate up to $ 10 billion to the program that FEMA officials were considering in the early days of Mr Biden’s administration.
According to Craig Fugate, who led FEMA under President Barack Obama and President Biden’s transition team, cities and states could struggle to spend so much money on climate resilience projects.
“It’s a good start,” said Mr Fugate of the new money announced on Monday. He called the total of $ 1 billion “a great number for disaster protection.”
Daniel Kaniewski, FEMA’s assistant administrator for resilience in the Trump administration, described the program as a “down payment to reduce future disaster consequences.”
“Today that down payment has increased significantly, but as a nation we have more to do,” said Kaniewski, executive director of Marsh & McLennan Companies, a consulting firm. “It will take investment from all levels of government, the private sector and each and every one of us to mitigate the risks.”
The announcement follows criticism that the Biden government has no longer made climate resilience a priority.
The government has been quick to press ahead with climate change, convening a summit of world leaders in April and announcing an aggressive new target to cut US greenhouse gas emissions by half by 2030 compared to 2005 levels.
However, experts are increasingly calling on the federal government to prepare communities for the devastating effects of this warming.
The White House has started to respond. Last week, Mr Biden signed an executive order reintroducing an Obama-era rule that imposes higher standards on government-funded construction work in flood areas. (The White House initially said Mr Biden reintroduced this rule on his first day in office, but later said it did not.)
Mr. Biden has also ordered every federal agency to prepare plans to adapt to the effects of climate change. And he has asked Congress to allocate $ 50 billion to climate resilience as part of its proposed infrastructure package, which has been the subject of ongoing negotiations between the White House and Senate Republicans.
However, with the start of the hurricane and forest fire season, the government faces major challenges in helping the country prepare for and recover from disasters.
After years of record storms and forest fires, as well as new responsibilities in managing coronavirus vaccinations and housing unaccompanied minors crossing the southern border, FEMA staff are exhausted, according to current and former staff. More money for civil protection programs means a bigger administrative burden for FEMA.
And the United States faces what experts warn that it is likely to be an unusually bad summer and fall for disaster.
This year’s Atlantic hurricane season, which officially begins June 1, is projected to be “above normal” and capable of triggering up to 10 hurricanes, including three to five major category 3 or higher hurricanes, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration last week warned.
And an unusually severe drought in the west made the conditions ripe for forest fires. California has already seen an early start to the forest fire season. A major fire near Los Angeles this month forced the evacuation of 1,000 people.
The government’s goal is to “be one step ahead and work to use every lever we have in government in coordination with local and state authorities to ensure that we are as prepared as possible” White House spokeswoman Jen Psaki told reporters on Monday.
Michael D. Shear contributed to the coverage.