President Joe Biden said Thursday he plans to press Congress to take further action on his infrastructure proposals that he says will better prepare the nation for future natural disasters and the effects of climate change.
Speaking hours after remnants of Hurricane Ida caused dangerous flash floods and tornadoes across the Northeast and as wildfires burn their way across the western US, Biden said his infrastructure proposals would shore up infrastructure that will be challenged in the coming decades.
“The past few days of Hurricane Ida and the wildfires in the West and the unprecedented flash floods in New York and New Jersey is yet another reminder that these extreme storms and the climate crisis are here,” Biden said, speaking from the White House.
The President said the nation needs to be better prepared, and argued his plan would make key investments that would make electric grids and transmission lines more resilient to storms, wildfires and floods.
Biden said he had spoken to the governors of New York and New Jersey in the wake of the floods and damage, and said he was planning on speaking to the governor of Pennsylvania.
Biden's White House
“There’s a lot of damage, and I made clear to the governors that my team at the Federal Emergency Management Agency, FEMA, is on the ground and ready to provide all the assistance that’s needed,” Biden said, speaking from the White House.
“My message to everyone affected is we’re all in this together. The nation is here to help. That’s the message I’ve been making clear to the mayors, governors, energy and utility leaders in the region who my administration has been working closely with over the past few days,” Biden said.
Biden said since the hurricane made landfall, more than 6,000 members of the National Guard have been activated in Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Texas and other states to support search and rescue efforts.
“We know that there is much to be done in this response on our part. We need to get power restored. We need to get more food, fuel and water deployed,” Biden said.
The President said he gets hourly updates on relief efforts from FEMA “well into the night,” and said his team would be working “around the clock until the critical needs of the region are fully met. And we will meet them.”
Biden said his team has been working with private companies to accelerate the restoration of power and cell phone services.
“It’s beginning to get back up, but there’s a long way to go,” Biden said.
Biden will be traveling on Friday to Louisiana to meet with Gov. John Bel Edwards, a Democrat, and parish presidents, mayors and local officials representing the affected areas. He said the governor encouraged the President to come and assured him his visit would not disrupt recovery efforts on the ground.
“We are here for you,” Biden said, addressing those affected by the storm. “And we’re making sure the response and recovery is equitable, so that those hit hardest get the resources they need and are not left behind.”
Biden noted the region hit by the hurricane is a key center of the nation’s oil production and refining infrastructure. As a result, he said his administration is moving quickly to increase the availability of gas and ease the pressure on gas prices around the country.
The President said he had directed Secretary of Energy Jennifer Granholm “to use all of the tools at her disposal, including using the Strategic Petroleum Reserve to keep gas flowing to the pumps in order to get critical supplies to the region.”
Biden also called on private insurance companies to pay their policy holders what they are owed to cover the cost of temporary housing amid the natural disaster.
“Don’t hide behind the fine print and technicality. Do your job. Keep your commitment to your communities you insure. Do the right thing,” Biden said.
New York declared a state of emergency early Thursday morning. At least 11 people have died in New York City, New Jersey and Maryland.
Biden met on Monday with FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell and governors and mayors from states and cities affected by Ida after the storm made landfall on Sunday in Louisiana and caused catastrophic damage.
Residents are now facing gas shortages and dwindling supplies, and power outages in some Louisiana parishes could last at least a month.
The President on Monday spoke about the number of actions the federal government had taken, including working with private sector energy providers to restore power to the more than one million Louisianans that at the time were without electricity.
Ahead of the storm, Biden approved the state of Louisiana’s request for a major federal disaster declaration and the state of Mississippi’s request for an emergency declaration. He said these declarations allowed federal aid to be ready ahead of time to supplement state, tribal and local recovery efforts in the areas affected by Ida.
The President visited FEMA’s headquarters in Washington on Sunday to receive a briefing on the storm. While there, Biden warned the hurricane was life-threatening and that the devastation was likely to be immense.
This story has been updated with additional developments from Biden’s speech.