Kamala Harris to announce wildfire money in visit to California on Friday

A person wearing a face mask.
Vice President Kamala Harris, pictured last week, will visit a fire station in San Bernardino on Friday to announce wildfire prevention and relief money.
(Alex Brandon / Associated Press)

Vice President Kamala Harris plans to visit a San Bernardino fire station Friday to announce the federal government will provide California $600 million to help the state recover from a historically severe wildfire season while highlighting plans to spend $5 billion more to address the dangers posed by fires, an administration official said.

The event is part of the Biden administration’s effort to showcase a $1-trillion bipartisan infrastructure law that the president signed in November. President Biden said during a news conference marking his first year in office on Wednesday that he wanted to spend more time selling the administration’s achievements in the face of low poll numbers and recent setbacks on his agenda, including the failure this week to pass a major voting rights bill championed by Harris.

Harris’ speech in San Bernardino will be the first to feature the infrastructure bill’s $5 billion allocation to combat, prevent and prepare for wildfires. Last year’s wildfire season was among the worst in California’s history, with fires scorching nearly 2.6 million acres.


Harris plans to spend the weekend at her home in Los Angeles and then speak in Milwaukee on Monday about the administration’s plans to replace lead pipes, another issue that will get a spending boost from the infrastructure bill.

The $600 million in disaster money, part of a national commitment to spend $1.3 billion, will be used by local communities to clean up hazardous materials, restore forests and repair infrastructure damaged by wildfires, an administration official said, speaking on condition of anonymity to preview Harris’ speech.

Harris, who was born in California and spent the bulk of her career there, has sought to position herself as an administration point person on wildfires. While serving in the Senate, she wrote legislation to create grants for low-income and high-risk communities to get help in preventing fires. Such grants made it into the infrastructure bill and are designed to help communities draw up plans and clear brush in buffers between towns and forests. Harris has also talked about using satellite technology to help track fire risks and active fires.

In her speech Friday, she intends to draw a connection between climate change and the conditions that have made fires more frequent and ferocious, according to the official. Some of the money in the bill will pay for landscaping programs, for example, that are aimed at resisting drought and protecting wildlife habitats.

The administration calls that part of its two-pronged approach on climate change. But Biden has not had as much success in addressing the second, more expensive prong aimed at preventing temperatures from rising.

Democrats’ social spending bill includes largest-ever investment in forests, including major wildfire prevention funding.

Dec. 6, 2021

His signature $1.8-trillion spending plan would have provided money for a host of social spending and environmental programs. It died last month when Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin III of West Virginia said he would not support it. Because all 50 Republican senators oppose the plan, Biden needs support from all 50 Democrats and independents.


Biden said Wednesday that he hoped to revive at least some portion of his plan, pointing to environmental and energy spending specifically.