WASHINGTON — White House officials said Thursday that they have been in close touch with governors in storm-stricken states including Louisiana and Kansas to extend emergency assistance — but they also stressed the role of climate change in the weather crisis that has gripped large swaths of the nation.
“The extreme weather events that we’re experiencing this week across the Central, Southern and now the Eastern United States do, yet again, demonstrate to us that climate change is real and it’s happening now, and we’re not adequately prepared for it,” said Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall, Homeland Security advisor, at a White House briefing.
She said power grids are overloaded by the demands placed on them and the energy infrastructure is inadequate. “In the future, we know that we can’t just react to extreme weather events — we need to actually prepare for them,” she said.
The Biden administration is in talks about a major infrastructure package that it would push once its $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package has been passed by Congress.
The deadly storms and bitter cold have claimed more than three dozen lives and left millions of people trying to stay warm and have safe water to drink amid bursting pipes and frozen water lines.
Sherwood-Randall said as the initial storm began to bear down earlier this week, she reached out on behalf of President Joe Biden to governors including Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards and Kansas Gov. Laura Kelly to offer any help the federal government could provide.
On Tuesday, Biden called a broad group of governors and on Wednesday night the White House received a request from Edwards for an emergency declaration that’s now being processed, she said.
Biden’s actions authorize the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide immediate aid, and many FEMA teams already have been embedded with state emergency teams on the COVID-19 response, she said.
FEMA and the Department of Energy and private power providers also have been in touch with local officials to try to help deal with widespread power outages, with about a million Americans still without power in the hardest-hit areas, Sherwood-Randall said. About 600,000 Texans remain without power, down from millions at the height of the storm, she said.
But she also cautioned that rolling blackouts will continue in some areas and FEMA is providing generators to support water treatment plants, hospitals and nursing homes in Texas, as well as blankets and meals requested by the governor.
White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said that the administration is also monitoring the effect of the extreme weather on vaccine shipments and deliveries, which have been delayed in Missouri, Iowa and other places, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other agencies are working to keep supplies en route to states.
“Our COVID response team is in constant communication with local officials, hearing about what’s going on on the ground,” she said. There are discussions about extending shipments into the weekend and extended hours and additional appointments for shots, Psaki said.