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President Biden speaks during a meeting on FEMA's response to extreme weather events. Photo: Shawn Thew/EPA/Bloomberg via Getty Images

President Biden pledged to increase the hourly wage for federal wildfire firefighters during a meeting Tuesday to discuss the Federal Emergency Management Agency's efforts to prepare for extreme weather events.

Why it matters: Biden's promise comes as a potentially devastating wildfire season kicks off.

What he's saying: "There’s an old expression: God made man, then he made a few firefighters," Biden told reporters Tuesday before a meeting with FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell and Homeland Security adviser Elizabeth Sherwood-Randall.

  • "And I just realized — I didn't realize this, I have to admit — that federal firefighters get paid $13 an hour. That's going to end in my administration. That's a ridiculously low salary to pay federal firefighters. Not that many federal firefighters, but -- and they -- and I know you use all the resources, including state and local firefighters," Biden added.
  • The president noted that his administration must “bring every resource to bear” to respond to natural disasters.

Of note: There are a variety of federal firefighters deployed by a range of agencies, including the Departments of Agriculture and Defense, some of which receive hazard pay and overtime.

Our thought bubble via Axios' Andrew Freedman: Much of the West is in the midst of a severe drought, and large wildfires have already been burning in California, Arizona, Utah and Montana.

  • The fire season is expected to be particularly severe and far-reaching, with record-dry vegetation in mountain forests as well as other lands. Recent extreme heat events have only dried out soils further, with climate change tied to both the heat and drought conditions.

What's next: Biden is expected to hold a meeting next week with governors from western states, Cabinet members and federal emergency management officials to prepare for the forecasted heat, drought and wildfires, according to Reuters.

Go deeper

Heat dome sends temperatures soaring from Oregon to Louisiana

Forecast maximum temperatures (darker red shading represents the hottest temperatures, in the upper 90s to low 100s, Fahrenheit). July 29. Image: WeatherBell

The Pacific Northwest is once again in the midst of a heat wave after already seeing its worst such event on record this summer. Temperatures are soaring into the low 100s in some areas, while dangerous heat is also affecting the South Central states and Gulf Coast.

Why it matters: The occurrence of yet another heat wave during a drought in the West is ratcheting up wildfire risks. The heat itself is a major public health risk, as extreme heat is typically the biggest annual weather-related cause of mortality in the U.S.

Updated Jul 30, 2021 - Politics & Policy

Military members will be included in Biden's new COVID guidance

Joe Biden. Photo: Anna Moneymaker/Getty Images

Members of the military will be required to get vaccinations or face regular testing, social distancing, mask mandates and restrictions on travel for work, the the Pentagon said on Thursday evening.

Why it matters: The policy was announced for federal workers and onsite contractors earlier on Thursday, part of several new Biden initiatives to get more Americans vaccinated and slow the spread of the Delta variant.

Bryan Walsh, author of Future
Jul 29, 2021 - Energy & Environment

Americans have been moving where the water isn't

Urban sprawl in Henderson, Nevada, outside of Las Vegas. Photo: David McNew/Getty Image

Even as population growth in the U.S. as a whole slows down, numbers are still rising in the Southwest and Mountain West.

  • One problem: many of these communities are among the most drought-prone in the country, and are likely to get even drier.