Returning to Florida to discuss climate change, Vice President Kamala Harris announced Friday that $562 million will be spent on 149 projects around the country aimed at improving resilience to threats such as rising seas and the kinds of coastal flooding that recently slammed the southeast part of the state.
Harris outlined the funding plan during an appearance at the University of Miami, where she also toured a lab immersed in coral restoration work and a hurricane simulator capable of generating Category 5-strength winds of more than 157 mph (253 kph).
Harris, who appeared in March at a Miami Beach climate summit, said the projects, which are spread across 30 states, are an example of how climate investments boost job creation and manufacturing while tackling a major environmental issue.
"When we invest in climate, we not only protect our environment, we also strengthen our economy," Harris said in a tweet during her Miami visit.
The funding is part of what the Biden administration calls its Climate-Ready Coasts initiative. Of the $562 million total, about $477 million is to help towns and cities respond better to extreme weather events, restore wildlife coastal habitats and focus more attention on assistance for underserved communities in tackling climate and storm threats, according to a White House news release.
Florida would get about $78 million for projects ranging from oyster habitat restoration in Pensacola Bay to flood protection in Jacksonville to removal of 200,000 tires from Tampa Bay and the Gulf of Mexico that were submerged decades ago as artificial reefs.
Harris toured the University of Miami's Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric and Earth Sciences — location of the hurricane simulator — where researchers have been studying the slowing down of ocean currents, building aquaculture to replenish and protect fisheries and examining how to repopulate dying coral reefs.
The vice president's visit comes as Fort Lauderdale and its suburbs have been recovering from an April 12 deluge that dumped up to 2 feet (0.6 meters) of rain, flooding homes and businesses while forcing the closure of Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport and disrupting gas distribution operations at Port Everglades that led to vehicle fuel shortages for days afterwards across the southern part of Florida.
Climate scientists say these once-rare extreme rain events will occur more frequently as temperatures warm, made worse in coastal regions such as Florida due to sea level rise.
“These heavy rainfall events coupled with sea level rise on the Florida coast need to serve as significant ‘wake up calls’ for the residents of South Florida about the severe risks that climate change poses to them,” said University of Oklahoma meteorology professor Jason Furtado.
Harris’ quick trip to Miami came the same day as President Joe Biden signed an executive order that would create the White House Office of Environmental Justice. The goal is to ensure that poverty, race and ethnic status do not lead to worse exposure to pollution and environmental harm.