Padilla, Feinstein Introduce Package of Bills to Help Communities Impacted by Wildfire Smoke

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Alex Padilla (D-Calif.) and Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) joined Senators Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) in introducing two key bills to help communities, businesses, and agricultural operators combat and recover from the effects of wildfire smoke. The Wildfire Smoke Emergency Declaration Act and the Smoke Planning and Research Act will ensure California has the federal resources it needs to protect communities impacted by wildfire smoke.

“Californians continue to face more frequent, devastating wildfires that spread heavy, dangerous smoke throughout the state, resulting in an air quality crisis. And that toxic smoke travels across the country,” said Senator Padilla. “We must do everything we can to ensure our communities are safe from wildfire smoke. These critical bills will better combat smoke related disasters, while working to mitigate the health impacts related to wildfire smoke.”

“Climate change is causing more frequent wildfires that are burning hotter and moving faster, engulfing large parts of California and the West with toxic smoke for extended periods of time. We must take steps to better prepare and protect people from inhaling wildfire smoke. These bills will enable quick mobilization of emergency assistance resources and fund more research on the public health effects of wildfire smoke,” said Senator Feinstein.

“When last year’s Labor Day fires broke out, I drove over 600 miles across Oregon and never once broke out from under the thick layer of smoke that had blanketed the state,” said Senator Merkley. “And now, less than a year later, the Bootleg Fire is burning out of control—destroying homes, businesses, and farms, forcing thousands of Oregonians to evacuate, and sending plumes of smoke into the air that are so big they’re visible from outer space. I’m fully committed to doing everything I can to not only secure the resources we need to address the root causes of these fires and to control the blazes as quickly as possible, but also to help Oregonians cope with, and recover from, increasingly extreme hot weather conditions and the dangerous smoke these wildfires produce.”

“The infernos burning today are not your grandfather’s wildfires. They are burning bigger and hotter and bringing devastation to communities in their path. Look at the Bootleg Fire. It’s the largest wildfire currently burning nationwide, and it’s so big it’s creating its own weather patterns with its smoke traveling all the way across the country,” Senator Wyden said. “These bills would take critical action to protect vulnerable Oregonians in our communities from the severe risks of wildfires, including smoke-related health risks. I am all in to make sure Oregonians have the resources they need to survive and recover from these catastrophic fires that threaten the lives, quality of life, and livelihoods of Oregonians.”

The increasing frequency and intensity of wildfires has become a serious public health issue across the United States. Wildfire smoke—from California and other west coast states—has become a major hazard each summer and fall. Smoke can stretch from one end of the state to the other, posing a major challenge for many communities, businesses and agriculture operations. Even without fires nearby, significant amounts of smoke can drift from fires burning thousands of miles away.

Much like in the cases of tornados or floods, federal assistance is necessary to help communities protect their health and provide relief to businesses that lose revenue from smoke. The bills address public health and economic impacts of wildfire smoke.

The Wildfire Smoke Emergency Declaration Act would allow the president to declare a “smoke emergency” when wildfire smoke creates hazardous air quality conditions.

  • This declaration would authorize federal agencies to provide emergency assistance to states and local communities to establish smoke shelters, assist with relocation efforts, and install emergency smoke monitors.

  • The bill would also authorize the Small Business Administration to provide financial relief to businesses affected by wildfire smoke to help cover lost revenue.

The Smoke Planning and Research Act would provide federal funding to help communities research, develop, and implement plans to help mitigate smoke by:

  • Establishing four Centers of Excellence at institutions of higher education to ensure that research is responsive to the challenges that people face on the ground.

  • Authorizing $20 million in research funding through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to study the public health impacts of wildfire smoke and effective responses.

  • Creating a grant program at EPA to help local communities plan and respond to wildfire smoke.

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