Sen. Merkley: We need to be better prepared for wildland fires: Because they’re going to keep coming…
From U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, D-Oregon
Last August in the Rogue Valley, I looked up at a sun that was neon pink through the thick haze of smoke from wildfires. Families were told to stay inside to get away from the smoke, but even folks indoors experienced respiratory problems because their HVAC systems weren’t equipped to handle the severe pollution.
I’ve heard from business owners and organizations about how the smoke caused cancelled reservations and shows. Others have told me about how smoke pollution has been absorbed by their products and goods, causing irreparable damage and significant financial losses. Overall, businesses in Oregon lost an estimated $51.1 million in revenue due to wildfire smoke in 2017 alone.
Wildfire smoke is a serious public health and economic issue that requires a creative and multi-faceted solution. We need take on the root causes of today’s megafires — from tackling climate chaos to investing in more fire-resilient forests — while ensuring that Oregonians get the help they need right now to deal with the menace of wildfire smoke. This week, I’m introducing a package of bills to help the public, businesses and agricultural operations combat the effects of wildfire smoke, and recover from the damage it causes.
At various points last year, the air in both Portland and Medford was ranked among the lowest quality in the world — leaving Oregonians without heavy-duty air filtration systems especially at risk. That’s why the first of this week’s four bills, the Smoke-Ready Communities Act, would provide federal funding to help local communities invest in stronger air filtration systems in schools, public buildings, and the homes of vulnerable Oregonians — to make sure that every Oregonian has a safe refuge from hazardous outdoor air quality.
Much like victims of other natural disasters like floods or hurricanes, Oregonians deserve federal assistance to provide communities and businesses with relief from wildfire smoke. The second bill, the Wildfire Smoke Emergency Declaration Act, would allow for the declaration of “smoke emergencies” to authorize additional funding to protect both the health of families and the health of our economy. This legislation would support smoke shelters and relocation efforts when necessary to protect our communities, and critically, would provide financial relief to business owners whose bottom lines are hit by smoke — from winegrowers whose grapes are tainted to hotels dealing with lost revenue from a drop in tourism.
This package of bills also includes the Farmworker Smoke Protection Act, which would ensure that farmworkers are provided with face masks or other equipment to protect them while working outdoors in smoky conditions, and the Smoke Planning and Research Act, which would invest in building local research capacity; authorize $20 million in smoke-related public health research; and help local communities plan and respond to wildfire smoke.
Please know that I’m going to keep fighting to protect Oregonians and our local economies from catastrophic wildfire smoke, while tackling the climate chaos that is causing drier, warmer summers and fueling the fires in the first place.
All my best,