Washington, D.C. July 16, 2020 – Energy and Commerce Chairman Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Transportation and Infrastructure Chairman Peter DeFazio (D-OR) and Science, Space, and Technology Chairwoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence today demanding that the White House direct all federal agencies to develop contingency plans for responding to natural disasters such as storms, floods, fires and extreme heat this year in light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our health care system, economy, and citizens are already overburdened by the pandemic and its repercussions,” wrote Pallone, DeFazio and Johnson. “Without proper planning and coordination by the White House, including full use of the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act and the Defense Production Act (DPA), natural disasters could undo tenable progress to respond to COVID-19 and deepen this humanitarian and economic crisis.”
The letter comes at the start of wildfire season and one month since the start of hurricane season, which jeopardize parts of the country currently experiencing some of the worst COVID-19 outbreaks. The three chairs expressed concern that no comprehensive plan for responding to a combined disaster has yet to be presented by the Trump Administration.
“Many of the same frontline workers, resources, and infrastructure that are critical to fighting the pandemic are also necessary to natural disaster mitigation, preparedness, response, and recovery. Essential public and private sector personnel already stretched thin by the pandemic play vital roles in keeping communities safe and lifelines operational during natural disasters,” the Committee leaders continued. “Likewise, the sound policies that are critical to safeguarding public health at this time, such as social distancing guidance and stay-at-home orders, could run in direct conflict with guidance to seek congregant shelter or evacuation orders that are common sense protocol during an extreme weather scenario.”
Pallone, DeFazio and Johnson urge the White House to use every resource at its disposal — notably the Stafford Act and the DPA — to grant state, local, tribal and territorial governments the flexibility to respond to natural disasters during the COVID-19 pandemic and protect disproportionately-affected communities. The Committee leaders likewise urge the White House to use DPA authority to ensure there is enough personal protective equipment (PPE) and other emergency supplies in the event numerous natural disasters cause a surge in demand. They note that in the event of a natural disaster, the Federal government must be prepared to distribute PPE and other supplies to the public and emergency response workers without depleting the supplies needed by medical professionals responding to COVID-19.
A PDF of the letter is available here.