06/12/2019 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 06/12/2019 16:56
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Oregon's U.S. Senators Jeff Merkley and Ron Wyden today introduced four bills to help the public, businesses and agricultural operations combat the effects of wildfire smoke, and recover from the damage it causes: the Smoke-Ready Communities Act, the Wildfire Smoke Emergency Declaration Act, the Farmworker Smoke Protection Act, andthe Smoke Planning and Research Act.
'Last August in the Rogue Valley, I looked up at a sun that was neon pink through the thick haze of smoke from wildfires,' Merkley said. 'Business owners and organizations told me how the smoke caused lost reservations, canceled shows, and even irreparable damage at a furniture store after the fabrics absorbed the smoke smell. Folks told me about respiratory problems even indoors because HVAC systems weren't equipped to handle the level of pollution they were experiencing. And communities all over the state experienced these impacts.
'We must invest in preventive measures to contain wildfires and keep them from becoming intense, destructive blazes, and that's why I introduced my Wildfire-Resilient Communities Act,' he continued. 'And we must help communities cope with intense smoke, and recover from its damage. This package of bills tackles this serious problem from multiple angles.'
'I have seen firsthand how the damage from wildfire smoke to public health and the local economies of communities throughout Oregon and nationwide becomes painfully clear with each passing year,' Wyden said. 'This comprehensive package of bills will help to protect those communities when that smoke invades their homes, farms and businesses as well as to respond more effectively to the impacts from these destructive blazes.'
The increasing frequency and intensity of wildfires has become a serious public health issue across the United States. Wildfire smoke-not only from Oregon's fires, but also drifting into the state from as far away as Canada or southern California-has become a hazard each summer. 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 afar. At various points last year, both Portland and Medford's air was ranked among the lowest quality in the world.
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. Businesses in Oregon lost an estimated $51.1 million in revenue during 2017 alone due to wildfire smoke.
The bills address public health and economic impacts of wildfire smoke.
The Smoke-Ready Communities Act would make necessary air quality upgrades more accessible by providing federal funding to help local communities invest in protecting public health from wildfire smoke by:
The Wildfire Smoke Emergency Declaration Act would allow the president to declare a 'smoke emergency' when wildfire smoke creates hazardous air quality conditions.
The Farmworker Smoke Protection Act would help ensure that farmworkers are protected from hazardous wildfire smoke. During wildfire season farmworkers often have to work quickly in smoky conditions to harvest crops and protect them from smoke damage, and many do so without proper respiratory protection.
The Smoke Planning and Research Act would provide federal funding to help communities research, develop, and implement plans to help mitigate smoke by: