Merkley Applauds Biden Administration Action on His Wildfire Smoke Preparedness Program

Washington, D.C. – In light of the U.S. Environment Protection Agency’s (EPA) announcement to invest nearly $11 million dollars in community wildfire smoke preparedness programs, Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley applauded the Biden administration’s action to follow through with federal support for the Wildfire Smoke Preparedness in Community Buildings program, which he created in 2022 as Chair of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee.

Merkley has been a long-time advocate and leader in introducing important wildfire and wildfire smoke related bills in Congress to respond to the growing threat in Oregon and states throughout the West.  

“As climate chaos intensifies, so do extreme wildfires and hazardous smoke events—events that endanger public health and impact everyday life for those under the plumes of dark smoke,” said Senator Merkley, Chair of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee. “I created this program to help ensure communities in Oregon and across the West have access to the resources they need to protect themselves from the dangerous smoke and heat that has unfortunately become expected with our increasingly hot summer months.”

Merkley created the EPA’s new Wildfire Smoke Preparedness in Community Buildings grant program as a federal program intended to enhance community wildfire smoke preparedness by providing grants to states, federally recognized Tribes, public preschools, local educational agencies, and non-profit organizations. Projects are designed to assess, prevent, control, or abate wildfire smoke hazards in community buildings that serve the public, and that serve disadvantaged communities or vulnerable populations.

This week, EPA announced it anticipates award of 9 grants, ranging from approximately $350,000 to $2,000,000 – totaling over $10 million. Information on the anticipated grants across the West can be found below:

  • Oregon State University, OR – To develop a set of interventions that includes tailored toolkits and resources that can be used by schools, preschools, and daycares to reduce wildfire smoke exposures and increase community resilience across Oregon.
  • Arizona Board of Regents-Arizona State University, AZ – To engage diverse communities in Arizona to develop resilient solutions to the challenges that are posed by wildfires. The project is expected to: (1) engage community members with knowledge of indoor air pollution control and associated health fields, (2) evaluate the resilient capacity of facilities to handle the air pollution and heat impacts of wildfires, and (3) implement sustainable solutions in facilities to enhance resiliency towards the air quality and heat impacts of wildfires.
  • Esperanza Community Housing Corporation, CA – To protect the people of South Los Angeles from wildfire smoke by strengthening wildfire smoke preparedness infrastructure in the Mercado La Paloma building and using the site as the launch pad for a grassroots education and outreach campaign. 
  • Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment, CO – To design and implement a state-wide program to provide outreach, education, and training for local community partners on how to prepare for, and respond to, the public health threat of wildfire smoke.
  • Nez Perce Tribe, Tribal land within boundaries of ID – To improve public health protection against smoke from wildfires by strengthening preparedness in community buildings. The project will enhance smoke readiness planning, outreach and training, deploy portable air cleaners, conduct indoor/outdoor air monitoring, complete weatherization, and upgrade HVAC systems. Three community centers, nine public libraries, and four youth centers will be upgraded to provide cleaner air spaces to the public during wildfire smoke events for effective reduction of occupants’ exposure.
  • Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, MT – To engage a variety of partners to increase wildfire smoke awareness, create and pilot a clean air shelter recognition program in six communities for easy replication in other high need areas, create culturally appropriate and tailored messaging on wildfire smoke and air quality, and provide training to building and facility managers on HVAC maintenance and importance of good indoor air quality (IAQ).
  • Utah Department of Environmental Quality, UT – To enhance communities’ resilience to wildfire smoke by (1) deploying indoor/outdoor low-cost PM2.5 and CO2 sensors at public schools, (2) developing air quality alerts, and (3) distributing air cleaners and filters to public schools/preschools and residents in target underserved areas.
  • Gonzaga University, WA – For activities that will reduce indoor exposure to pollutants in wildfire smoke in the City of Spokane and in three community centers serving disadvantaged communities.
  • Bellingham School District No.501, WA – To focus on smoke readiness assessment and planning as well as indoor and outdoor air quality monitoring.