Merkley Statement on Biden Administration’s Move to Protect Communities from Wildfire and Smoke Impacts

Washington, D.C. – As an outspoken leader for protecting communities from extreme wildfire and smoke events, Oregon’s U.S. Senator Jeff Merkley, Chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies, issued a statement following the Biden Administration’s announcement that it will issue a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) to strengthen federal coordination to protect communities from wildfire and smoke impacts:

“All Americans deserve clean air and water, healthy forests and ecosystems, and infrastructure that they can depend on. When catastrophic blazes take over and wildfire smoke blankets our communities, it’s dangerous for public health and hinders everyday life for those under the hazardous plumes of dark smoke emitted by these events.

“At a time when wildfires are an ever-growing threat in Oregon and across the West, it’s more critical than ever that the federal government invests in programs and solutions to help prevent and respond to dangerous megafires and smoke events.

“At my town halls in each of Oregon’s 36 counties this year, I heard firsthand from folks about what matters most to them, specifically the need to take on wildfire, smoke, and heat threats. As Chair of the Senate Interior Subcommittee on Appropriations, I have made it one of my top priorities to help address these concerns. It’s crucial that we make sure communities have access to all of the resources they need to not only battle blazes, but also protect themselves from the dangerous smoke and heat that has unfortunately become expected during these increasingly hot summer months.

“I look forward to staying up to date with conversations and this MOU and seeing how these federal partnerships will play a key role in strengthening Oregon, and our country, for generations to come.”

Merkley has spent years advocating for federal resources, solutions, and investments to combat increasingly extreme wildfire seasons and catastrophic smoke events that blanket the west. In Fiscal Year 2022, as Chairman of the Interior Environment Appropriations Committee, Merkley created this new program that funded wildfire smoke mitigation at $4 million. In Fiscal Year 2024, it’s currently marked in the Senate bill at $9 million. The EPA’s MOU is an outgrowth of the program and in line with Merkley’s Smoke and Heat Ready Communities Act bill and will be used to help coordinate between the different federal agencies. Merkley is also the author and lead sponsor of the Wildfire Smoke Emergency Declaration Act, which would allow the president to declare a “smoke emergency” and unleash federal assistance when wildfire smoke creates intense, hazardous air quality conditions.

This MOU will be in partnership with Department of Interior (DOI), Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).