October 28, 2019

Harris Statement on Wildfires and Blackouts Across California, Long-Term Solutions to Climate Change-Driven Crisis

WASHINGTON, D.C. — U.S. Senator Kamala D. Harris (D-CA) on Monday released a statement as wildfires continued to spread across California and blackouts continued to impact communities in fire-prone areas. Earlier this year, at the urging of Senator Harris, FEMA confirmed Pre-Disaster Mitigation funds could be used toward microgrid infrastructure that would help communities be more resilient to large-scale blackouts.

“My thoughts are with the tens of thousands of Californians who have been forced to evacuate their homes as wildfires have spread throughout our state, as well as the millions who have been impacted by blackouts. I also want to thank the firefighters and first responders who are working tirelessly and heroically to preserve life and property. I am absolutely committed to helping California receive every federal resource necessary to fight these fires, help those affected recover, and build more resilient communities as we look to the future.

“California must not be made to fight alone in this—the federal government can and must do more to help our state mitigate the impact of these wildfires and blackouts. Already, I’ve confirmed with FEMA that Pre-Disaster Mitigation funds can be used toward microgrid infrastructure that would help communities maintain power for critical facilities during large-scale blackouts.

“But that’s not nearly enough. Any long-term solution to this crisis needs to involve serious accountability for California’s utility companies, which for too long have avoided making the investments necessary to maintain safe power lines and adapt to the challenges posed by climate change. We need a more resilient and distributed energy system in our state, and we need to start providing communities with the resources they need to build resilience to power shutoffs and defense to wildfires. We also need to ensure that FEMA understands and is properly equipped to deal with the unique challenges wildfires present in California and in other states across the nation.

“As the climate crisis contributes to the growing frequency and intensity of these fires, we must finally begin to take seriously the threat posed by extreme weather and recognize that blackouts and wildfires have the greatest impact on vulnerable communities, such as people with disabilities, the elderly, children, low-income communities, and communities of color. Keeping our state safe and securing climate justice will require us to work towards a bold, comprehensive solution to fight climate change and preserve our planet for our children and grandchildren.

“Congress has a responsibility to take action as well, which is why I’m drafting legislation that will provide communities with the funding they need to invest in science-based strategies to protect themselves from wildfires, such as hardening infrastructure, implementing microgrids and other distributed energy resources, maintaining defensible space, evacuation planning, and community education.

“Californians should not have to live in fear of a wildfire season that seems to get worse with every passing year. Fires are inevitable as part of the natural ecosystem, but the number of human-caused fires and the scale of destruction we’ve seen in recent memory is not. Wildfires are ultimately a foreseeable challenge that our state and communities can prepare for if provided with the appropriate resources and if we finally take a comprehensive approach to the climate crisis. California’s elected officials across the local, state, and federal government must work together to protect our state, and I am committed to being a leader in this urgent and necessary effort.”