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With Key Biscayne as part of her photo backdrop, Vice President Kamala Harris announced $562 million to help protect communities against the impacts of climate change at the Rosenstiel School Friday. The visuals were part of the Biden administration climate policy push on the eve of Earth Day.

“This investment not  only protects our environment but strengthens our economy,” Harris said to a room packed with VIP’s, students, and faculty members — including Key Biscayne Mayor Joe Rasco in a second-row seat.  Harris pointed to the island at one point, noting the package includes money for 16 projects she says will protect the beauty of Florida. 

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 Rosenstiel’s hurricane simulator being used to research how coastal communities can be better protected, pointing at the waves being generated and wondering how powerful they would get. 

“It looks intense but not that intense,” Harris said as machine revved up. Graduate student Samantha Medina assured Harris the wave simulator was only getting started.

With University of Miami Marine Biology Professor Andrew Baker giving a tour, Vice President Kamala Harris points at a hurricane simulator revving up at the Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science on Virginia Key, Florida, Friday April 21, 2023. Harris announced $562 million to be spent on 149 projects around the country aimed at improving resilience to threats such as rising seas and coastal flooding, (KBI Photo/Tony Winton)

She skipped a planned stop at a coral reef lab, where researchers are working on ways to revitalize the dying sea animals. She drew cheers from the college campus crownd when she said natural barriers can be more effective at protecting the coast than walls and human-made structures. 

Key Biscayne Deputy Police Chief Jason Younes said there were minimal traffic impacts from the visit and cars resumed flowing smoothly after Harris left Virginia Key, where she made a previously unannounced stop at an arepa restaurant. 

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Key Biscayne Mayor Joe Rasco listens to Vice President Kamala Harris remarks at the Rosenstiel School on Virginia Key, Friday April 21, 2023. (KBI Photo/Tony Winton)

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.

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 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 due to sea level rise.

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.

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The Associated Press contributed to this report

JOHN PACENTI is a correspondent of the Key Biscayne Independent. John has worked for The Associated Press, the Palm Beach Post, Daily Business Review, and WPTV-TV.

Editor-in-Chief

Tony Winton is the editor-in-chief of the Key Biscayne Independent and president of Miami Fourth Estate, Inc. He worked previously at The Associated Press for three decades winning multiple Edward R. Murrow awards. He was president of the News Media Guild, a journalism union, for 10 years. Born in Chicago, he is a graduate of Columbia University. His interests are photography and technology, sailing, cooking, and science fiction.

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