WASHINGTON — President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris hosted a virtual meeting with Western governors on Wednesday to discuss the government’s preparation efforts amid the droughts and heat waves surging through the country.
The meeting comes as a sweltering heatwave makes its way though the Pacific Northwest, leaving thousands of people without power and much of the region dealing with wildfires in California, Nevada, and Washington.
“Right now we have to act and act fast. We’re late in the game here,” Biden said. “The truth is we’re playing catch up. This is an area that has been under resourced, but that’s going to change if we have anything to do with it.”
Democratic governors from Oregon, California, New Mexico, Colorado, and Nevada attended the meeting, along with the Republican governors from Wyoming and Utah.
The President said he is increasing wages for federal firefighters to $15 an hour, adding, in his view, that it is still not enough.
“Last week, I learned that some of our federal firefighters are being paid less than $13 an hour. Come on, man. That’s unacceptable,” he said.
The White House said the bipartisan infrastructure bill that was agreed on last week would invest nearly $50 billion in building resilience to wildfires and help western communities prepare for droughts.
Biden also announced he is extending seasonal hiring, adding “surge capacity” by training and equipping additional personnel. With the most frequent and severe weather disasters still coming, scientists urge immediate action to prevent severe damage.
Seattle hit 108 degrees, a new record-high, and Phoenix hit 110 degrees earlier this week, unusually hot with the July 4 holiday coming this weekend. Portland, Oregon, topped 116 degrees on Monday, marking three consecutive days of record heat.
“Climate change is driving the dangerous confluence of extreme heat and prolonged drought. We’re seeing wildfires of greater intensity that move with more speed and last well beyond traditional months, traditional months of the fire season,” Biden said.