Calling ‘Code Red’ on Climate, Biden Pushes for Infrastructure Plan
“The nation and the world are in peril,” the president said during a stop in a hard-hit borough of New York City. “And that’s not hyperbole. That is a fact.”,
President Biden warned Americans on Tuesday that Hurricane Ida’s lethal destruction was the sure sign of a nation and world “in peril” from climate change and said drastic action would be needed to prevent extreme weather patterns from worsening.
“They all tell us this is code red,” Mr. Biden said from a neighborhood in Queens, referencing scientific research that suggests a growing number of Americans are vulnerable to extreme weather events. “The nation and the world are in peril. And that’s not hyperbole. That is a fact.”
A trip through storm-battered areas of New Jersey and New York City gave Mr. Biden an opportunity to show his commitment to the federal government’s storm response and to build support for an infrastructure package that he has promised would help safeguard against future storms. While he was traveling, the White House sent Congress an urgent funding request for $14 billion to aid recovery from natural disasters that occurred before Hurricane Ida and to avert a government shutdown on Oct. 1.
Flanked by a number of Democratic politicians from New York, including Senator Chuck Schumer, the Senate majority leader, Senator Kirsten Gillibrand and Gov. Kathy Hochul, Mr. Biden said in Queens that the bipartisan deal would include investments to repair roads, pipes and bridges but would also include money to provide jobs that he said could ultimately make the country more climate-resistant.
“Climate change poses an existential threat to our lives, our economy, and the threat is here,” he said. “It’s not going to get any better. The question is: Can it get worse?”
The $1 trillion piece of legislation he was there to promote was passed by the Senate in early August and still must pass the House, but if enacted, it will touch nearly every facet of the American economy and fortify the nation’s response to the planet’s warming. The $3.5 trillion budget plan Mr. Biden has proposed would go even further in fighting climate change but would require the support of all 50 Senate Democrats and more moderate members of the House.
But the White House indicated that more money would be needed on a faster time frame. The urgent request for funding sent to Congress on Tuesday forecast that billions more would be necessary to respond to Hurricane Ida and also included $6.4 billion to assist the processing of Afghan overseas and in the United States.
Mr. Biden’s first stop of the day was New Jersey, where he traveled with Gov. Phil Murphy to an emergency management training center and a neighborhood in Manville, in Somerset County, where floodwaters last week caused explosions and fires in buildings. Ida killed at least 27 people in New Jersey — more fatalities than in any other state — and four people remain missing. Mr. Biden’s trip came four days after he visited Louisiana to survey damage from the hurricane there.
As the president made his way from the airport into Manville, his motorcade passed the still-smoldering remains of Saffron Banquet Hall, a building that exploded early Friday morning after being nearly swallowed by floodwaters. The banquet hall’s sign was still standing, but crooked, with a torn “Grand Opening” banner hanging from it. Nearby, a spray-painted sign held up by police tape read, “Help Manville Recover.”
A gantlet of debris, in some spots piled 10 feet high, stretched nearly all the way from the edge of Manville through downtown. There were heaps of broken furniture and appliances; dirt-covered toys, including a human-sized teddy bear; mounds of rotting drywall. Residents and business owners had dragged those items from their flood-damaged buildings to the sidewalk, and no one was sure when, or how, the piles would be carted away.
Daniel Lopez, 42, lives a block from Manville’s main street with his girlfriend, Liz Davis. They expected trouble from Hurricane Ida because Manville is known for flooding — and flooding badly. Mr. Lopez, a locksmith, said he had lived through four floods since his parents moved into the house in 1991. But it had never been this catastrophic, he said.
“The flood gets worse every time,” Mr. Lopez said. “This is why so many shops on Main Street are abandoned now. The people here can’t take much more of this, but the ones who’ve stayed, we’re strong and have been through a lot.”
Flooding has been a generations-old problem in Manville, a blue-collar former factory town that was named after the company Johns-Manville, which manufactured asbestos there. Regina Petrone, who has lived there for 30 years, lost everything in her basement when Ida came through.
The federal government has let Manville suffer, she said, explaining that the nearby town Bound Brook was part of a federal flood control project that built a series of dikes that spared the town the devastation that Manville now faces. An Army Corps of Engineers study found that Manville did not meet the cost-benefit standard for any protection project to go forward, and residents were stung by it.
“We’re the forgotten town,” Ms. Petrone said. “We’re too small to care about, evidently. So I hope Biden does something. This has gone on way too long.”
Mauro Rojas and Karla Licano, who are originally from Costa Rica, moved to Manville two years ago because they had heard it was good for immigrants and for families. They looked at 30 houses in the county, but bought one on Boesel Street, in the Lost Valley — the most flood-prone area of Manville, where Mr. Biden visited on Tuesday. After the storm, the couple and their young daughter, Elena, had to be rescued from their home by a boat.
“Elena worries about her school bag and clothes,” Ms. Luciano said. “Those are gone. I told her it will be OK. We also have bills to pay and a house bill to pay, and I have no idea how we’re going to do that now.”
While Mr. Biden toured the Lost Valley, he visited with families as a cluster of supporters of former President Donald J. Trump shouted at him from a distance.
“Well, thank God you’re safe,” Mr. Biden told one family whose home had been destroyed by a fire.
Mr. Biden then traveled to Queens, where several people were killed in flooded basement apartments. Climate change has made low-lying dwellings particularly treacherous: Of the 13 people found dead in New York City from the storm, at least 11 were in basement units, according to the city’s Department of Buildings.
Large American flags waved above nearly every stoop on the northeast side of 88th Street near Astoria Boulevard in Queens ahead of Mr. Biden’s arrival on the block.
“He brings energy, hope. These people need hope,” said Sergio Bertoni, 61, gesturing toward the homes of his neighbors. “The president is the only person in this moment who can help.”
Mr. Bertoni, a doorman who works in Manhattan, said he had incurred well over $40,000 worth of loss and damage to the home he has owned since 2001. The pressure from the floodwater on the block last week was so high it burst through the basement door and rushed through, leaving appliances and electronics like computers, a washer, a dryer, televisions and a refrigerator in ruins.
“We’re hoping anything that can come through FEMA comes here,” said Mr. Bertoni’s daughter, Xenia Bertoni, 27, who worked as a manager at a physical therapy office until her mother came down with Covid last year. She left her job to care for her mother, who was in a coma for nearly five months, leaving the family with one less income.
For Mr. Bertoni, who moved from his native Argentina to the United States in 1989, his hope is that Mr. Biden’s presence will push the Federal Emergency Management Agency, to give as much money as possible.
“My dream was to be an American,” he said. “My spirit is in this country. America must take care of its people.”
On Monday, the governors of New York and New Jersey said that they had been granted federal aid from the Biden administration, which declared areas in both states major disaster zones following the torrential rains and catastrophic flooding last week.
The funding, which will come from FEMA, means that those who have been displaced from their homes by the storm in the approved counties, including people who do not have insurance coverage, will be eligible for money for repairs. It will also cover legal services, unemployment assistance and crisis counseling, officials from both states said.
In New York and New Jersey, advocates for tougher climate measures are hoping that the disaster will give momentum to new state and local climate laws and regulations aimed at reducing greenhouse gas emissions, as well as help overcome opposition to even more sweeping proposals.
Mr. Biden and the Democrats who gathered around him said in Queens that they would continue to take up the fight to get people the resources they needed to recover from the storm. The president also said that when he travels to Scotland for a climate summit this fall he would push other leaders to reduce emissions and adopt measures that could reduce the effects of climate change. The Biden administration has pledged to reach net-zero emissions by 2050.
“We’re going to be able to do these things,” Mr. Biden said. “But we’ve got to move and we’ve got to move the rest of the world.”
Anne Barnard and Zolan Kanno-Youngs contributed reporting. Juliet Macur reported from Manville, N.J., and Chelsia Rose Marcius from Queens.