Joe Biden on Monday toured parts of eastern Kentucky devastated by the worst flooding in the state’s history and pledged to help recovery, while his spokesperson warned that the climate crisis was having an impact on such events there and across America.
At least 37 people have died in the flooding since a deluge late last month that dropped up to 10.5in of rain on Kentucky in only 48 hours.
The US president said the nation had an obligation to help all its people, declaring the federal government would provide support until residents were back on their feet.
Behind him as he spoke was a house that the storm had dislodged and dumped on the ground, tilted sideways.
“We have the capacity to do this it’s not like it’s beyond our control,” Biden said, adding that “the weather may be beyond our control for now” but pledging “we’re staying until everybody’s back to where they were.”
Earlier in the day, en route from his holiday home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, having emerged from coronavirus isolation, to Kentucky, Biden hailed historic health and climate action legislation that passed the tough hurdle of the US Senate on Sunday.
He called the Inflation Reduction Act, which could pass the House and be on the way to his desk to sign into law by the end of the week, “a big deal” and said he expected it to help Democrats’ prospects in November’s midterm elections, which had been looking bleak.
Then, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre addressed the issue of climate change in her media briefing aboard Air Force One on the way to Lexington with Biden and the first lady, Jill Biden.
“The floods in Kentucky and extreme weather all around the country are yet another reminder of the intensifying and accelerating impacts of climate change and the urgent need to invest in making our communities more resilient to it,” she said.
Jean-Pierre called measures in the new bill “so vital”, alongside previous infrastructure legislation that aims to boost climate resilience.
“Over the long term, these investments will save lives, reduce costs and protect communities like the one we are visiting today,” she said.
Independent analysis of the Inflation Reduction Act shows it should slash America’s planet-heating emissions by about 40% by the end of the decade, compared with 2005 levels.
This cut would bring the US within striking distance of a goal set by Biden to cut emissions in half by 2030, a target that scientists say must be achieved by the whole world if catastrophic global heating, triggering escalating heatwaves, droughts and floods, is to be avoided.
Biden has called climate change the “existential crisis of our time” and the president had been under pressure in recent weeks to declare a national climate emergency, as the legislation that passed the Senate on Sunday had seemed out of reach, while record heatwaves and wildfires were ravaging the American west.
On Monday, Kentucky’s governor, Andy Beshear, said the flooding was “unlike anything we’ve ever seen”. It followed deadly tornadoes in the western part of the state that killed almost 100 people last December.
Last week, China cut off defense and climate talks with the US amid aggressive military exercises in the Taiwan Strait, in retaliation for House speaker Nancy Pelosi’s visit to Taiwan, the island democracy that claims independence but which Beijing claims is part of the communist People’s Republic of China.