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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

White House says it expects federal contractors to be vaccinated by Dec. 8

Photo: Stefani Reynolds/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The White House said in new guidance Friday that it expects millions of federal contractors to be vaccinated against the coronavirus no later than Dec. 8.

Why it matters: Companies with federal contractors have been waiting for formal guidance from the White House before requiring those employees to get vaccinated, according to Reuters.

Newsom signs $15 billion package to fight climate change

Gov. Gavin Newsom Photo: Jane Tyska/Digital First Media/East Bay Times via Getty Images

Gov. Gavin Newsom signed a $15 billion climate package on Thursday as California wildfires threaten more sequoias at Sequoia National Park.

Why it matters: The package is the largest such investment in California history as drought conditions have worsened across the state and led to numerous wildfires. More than 1.9 million acres have burned across the state this year, according to the California Department of Forestry and Fire Protection, including over 220,000 in the Caldor fire last month.

Updated Sep 22, 2021 - Axios Events

Watch: A conversation on bold climate commitments

On Wednesday, September 22nd, Axios co-founder Mike Allen and energy reporter Ben Geman hosted a virtual conversation on the innovative approaches climate leaders are undertaking to reshape standards for sustainability initiatives in 2022 and beyond, featuring White House national climate adviser Gina McCarthy and Environmental Defense Fund president Fred Krupp.

Gina McCarthy explained the Biden administration’s recent environmental priorities, the importance of mobilizing different communities to fight climate change, and how the White House is incentivizing private industries to reduce their emissions.   

  • On addressing extreme heat problems: "I think everybody’s beginning to understand as the President tours the sites of wildfires and flooding and other really big challenges like drought, there’s this silent killer for climate change that’s called excess heat, that really doesn’t get enough attention."
  • On cross-agency collaboration on climate change at a federal level: “It’s an exciting moment where people across the federal government are working together in ways they have never done before, not just to tackle wildfires and droughts and flooding and heat stress, but also to tackle the challenge of how we motivate our business sector and send them all the signals you would want us to send that shows that President Biden is committed to achieving net zero in 2050, and knows that this decade is a decisive decade.”

Fred Krupp highlighted how companies must be held accountable to pledges to reduce their emissions, how some corporations are breaking with lobby associations to become more vocal about climate change (and others are not), and how he believes debates surrounding the infrastructure bill will play out in the near future. 

  • On how corporate lobbying has fallen short: “Right now, we don’t see enough corporations lobbying on behalf of the climate sections of the reconciliation bill. This bill that’s pending in Congress is our once in a decade opportunity to get something done on climate.” 
  • On public support for the infrastructure bill: “I see an enormous amount of support in the American public for moving ahead with a sort of clean energy economy that are going to create tremendous numbers of jobs, clean the air, make people healthier.” 

Axios VP of Communications Yolanda Brignoni hosted a View from the Top segment with GE’s Chief Sustainability Officer Roger Martella, who discussed how GE is following through on their ESG goals by investing in sustainable energy technologies. 

  • “We create some of the most technically complex and critical technologies the world needs, and we’re focused today on innovating these technologies on a path to decarbonization.” 

Thank you GE for sponsoring this event.