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Biden Announces $95m in Funding for Hawaii’s Power Grid to ‘meet the Moment’ After Wildfires

President Joe Biden is dedicating new federal funding to harden Hawaii’s power grid, declaring the announcement was accelerated to “meet the moment” following the deadly wildfires on Maui. 

The president made the announcement at the White House on Wednesday while delivering remarks on the federal government’s response to the fires and the powerful storm Idalia – just hours after it made landfall in Florida as a Category 3 storm. 

As new federal resources are deployed to assist with the storm battering the Southeast, Biden emphasized he remains “laser focused on recovering and rebuilding efforts in Maui.” 

Following his speech, Biden convened of his Cabinet and agency officials to discuss just that, reiterating that he is directing his team “to do everything we can for as long as it takes to help Maui recover.”

Earlier this month, the deadliest wildfires in the U.S. in more than a century swept the island, leaving at least 115 people dead. This week, Hawaii’s electric utility recognized its power lines downed by high winds appears to have started a fire on Maui while also placing blame on county firefighters.

Biden is seeking to lessen the risk of future wildfires and reduce chances of outages with the $95 million he announced to harden Hawaii’s power grid. The funding comes from the $1 trillion Bipartisan Infrastructure Law he signed in 2021. 

“It means investments to make sure electricity can continue to reach homes, hospitals, water stations, even during intense storms and extreme weather,” he said on Wednesday regarding the new project. 

The president also noted his administration has already dedicated “$24 million to removal of hazardous material left behind in the fires’ wake.” 

Biden visited Lahaina to survey damage and meet with officials on the ground last week, pledging to help Maui rebuild the way the locals want. 

On Wednesday he repeated that commitment, saying he would aid Maui in rebuilding “in a way that respects and honors Hawaiian traditions and cultures and the needs of a local community.” 

“We’re not going to turn this into a new land grab. We’re not trying to see multi-million dollar homes on the beach,” he said. “We want to restore that part of the island like it was before, only better.” 

Biden noted he appointed FEMA Region 9 Administrator Bob Fenton as the Chief Federal Response Coordinator for Maui to oversee that process. 

The administration has continued to highlight its “whole-of-government” response, including having more than 1,000 federal personnel on the ground, approving more than $16 million in assistance to local households and providing meals, water, cots and blankets. 

Republicans, however, have criticized Biden’s initial response to the fires as slow, pointing to the president saying he had no comment when asked about the death toll on the island while vacationing at his beach house days after the blazes started. The White House has since said he didn’t hear the question. 

Multiple outlets reported House Republicans are launching an investigation into the president and federal government’s actions. 

Asked about a potential probe by reporters on Wednesday, Biden said they should “go out and talk to every elected official from the mayors to the governor to United States senators to the Congress persons.”

White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre shot back at criticism of Biden’s response during Wednesday’s press briefing, saying the Hawaii Gov. Josh Green, Hawaii senators and “folks on the ground” would say “the President reacted in record time when it came to dealing with the wildfires, when it came to dealing and making sure that they got everything that they need on the federal level.”

FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell said during Wednesday’s White House briefing she would be “happy to testify” on what the federal role was in this process.

Criswell announced on Tuesday that FEMA is implementing immediate needs funding, prioritizing using available money for the hurricane and Maui wildfires and “any other extreme weather events that may come our way.” 

“I want to stress that while Immediate Needs Funding will ensure we can continue to respond to disasters, it is not a permanent solution,” she told reporters at a White House briefing on Tuesday. “Congress must work with us on the supplemental request that the administration has made on behalf of FEMA.”

The Biden administration asked Congress to approve about $12 billion to replenish FEMA’s disaster relief fund in a $40 billion request that also included funding for the Southern border and Ukraine amid Russia’s invasion. 

The request is despite significant pushback from some in the GOP about the United States’ continued military and monetary support for the country.

Asked about whether he can ensure Americans that the government will have the necessary emergency funding going forward, Biden said “if I can’t do that, I’m going to point out why.”

“How can we not respond? My God. How can we not respond to these needs? And so I’m confident even though there’s a lot of talk from some of our friends up on the Hill about the cost, we got to do it.” 

Source : SpectrumNews