Merkley-Led Legislation to Help Communities Harmed by Wildfire Smoke Receives Hearing in Senate Environment and Public Works Committee

Washington, D.C. – As wildfire smoke continues to fuel air quality issues in many parts of the State, two bills written by Oregon’s Senator Jeff Merkley to take on the wildfire smoke crisis—S. 2661, the Smoke-Ready Communities Act of 2021 and S. 2421, the Smoke Planning and Research Act of 2021—received a hearing in the Senate Environment and Public Works (EPW) Committee today.

“When the 2020 Labor Day fires broke out, I drove over 600 miles across Oregon and never once was able to escape the thick layer of smoke that blanketed the state,” said Merkley, who serves as a member of the EPW Committee. “Last year, the Bootleg Fire burned out of control—destroying homes, businesses, and farms, forcing thousands of Oregonians to evacuate, and sent plumes of smoke into the air so big they were visible from outer space. I’m fully committed to doing everything I can to lead and support critical legislation and secure federal resources needed to both address the root causes of these fires and do a better job at managing and mitigating the effects of smoke on our communities. I won’t stop fighting to ensure Oregonians have the resources and support to cope with, and recover from, increasingly extreme hot weather conditions and the dangerous smoke these wildfires produce.”

Senator Merkley’s Smoke-Ready Communities Act of 2021 would make grants to states to make necessary air quality upgrades more accessible and help local communities invest in protecting public health from wildfire smoke. The legislation would:

  • Support efforts by state and local government to communicate public health information regarding wildfire smoke.
  • Provide funding to make infrastructure upgrades to public buildings to filter out wildfire smoke.
  • Provide funding to purchase and store personal protective equipment.
  • Provide funding to private entities with financial need to acquire protective gear and carry out other measures to mitigate smoke.

Merkley’s Smoke Planning and Research Act of 2021 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.