During last year’s Labor Day fires, I drove over 600 miles across Oregon and never once broke out of the thick layer of smoke that had blanketed the state. And now, less than a year later, the Bootleg Fire is burning out of control — destroying homes, businesses, and farms, and forcing thousands of Oregonians to evacuate. I’m deeply grateful to all of the firefighters and first responders working to battle these blazes and keep Oregonians safe.
It’s a significant challenge when it comes to a wildfire this big: You don’t have to be at the fire’s edge to be at risk. The smoke created by this fire and other catastrophic fires can drift thousands of miles, trapping people under suffocating smoke that creates hazardous air quality or ruins crops, products, and goods. That’s why 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, the dangerous smoke these wildfires produce. As part of that effort, I just introduced three bills to help address the public health and economic impacts of wildfire smoke.
The first of the bills, the Wildfire Smoke Emergency Declaration Act, would allow the president to declare a “smoke emergency” when wildfire smoke creates hazardous air quality conditions. These declarations would bring more emergency assistance to states and local communities to help establish smoke shelters, support relocation efforts, and install emergency smoke monitors to help keep Oregonians safe. This bill would also authorize the Small Business Administration to provide financial relief to businesses affected by wildfire smoke to help cover lost revenues.
The second bill, the Smoke Planning and Research Act, would provide federal funding to help communities research, develop, and implement plans to help mitigate smoke by supporting the research we need to better understand the public health impacts of smoke. In addition, the legislation would create a grant program to help local communities put that science into practice.
Lastly, the Wildfire Smoke Relief Act, Senator Ron Wyden’s bill that I’m cosponsoring, would provide federal emergency assistance to at-risk individuals– including the elderly, children and infants, low-income families, pregnant women, and those with chronic health conditions made worse by wildfire smoke — in areas with unhealthy air quality caused by wildfires. That assistance would include transitional sheltering for at-risk individuals in extreme circumstances, and low-cost home improvements and smoke inhalation prevention equipment, like masks and air filters, when wildfire smoke causes unhealthy air quality levels for three consecutive days.
Each of these steps could make a real difference in the health and well-being of our communities. But we still have a lot of work to do make sure our communities have all the resources we need to stay safe during wildfire season, and to tackle the root causes of the hotter, drier conditions that are fueling increasingly extreme wildfires in the first place. I’m going to keep fighting on both of those fronts, and will be sure to keep you updated along the way.
All my best,