Sen. Merkley introduces package of smoke bills

Sen. Merkley introduces package of smoke bills


By:  Anna Weeks

MEDFORD, Ore. – Oregon Senator Jeff Merkley introduced a package of smoke bills Wednesday.

He says the four new pieces of legislation are backed by Oregon Senior Senator Ron Wyden. They are hoping it will get bipartisan backing from other states affected by wildfires.

“We have had two summers in a row where smoke did enormous damage to our health and to our economy in Oregon and we need to take it on in every way we can,” Sen. Merkley said.

Now he’s introducing four new bills aimed to do just that. The Wildfire Smoke Emergency Declaration Act would allow the president to call a smoke emergency. Merkley says that would authorize federal agencies to help set up smoke shelters, relocate people and install smoke monitors.

“Oregon really knows and, unfortunately, experiences this challenge,” Sen. Merkley said.

The second bill, the Farmworker Smoke Protection Act, would require employers to provide N-95 masks to workers exposed to hazardous conditions. It would also direct the Occupational Health and Safety Administration to develop an official air quality standard to protect employees from smoke.

The Smoke Planning and Research Act would put federal funding toward smoke research. The senator says not enough information is out there about the lasting damage smoke can have on our health.

“It’s not focused on the damage from smoke to our economy. Now we know all kinds of ways, and to our public health, so it affects our lungs and it affects our businesses and we want to understand all that better and how to fight it,” Sen. Merkley said.

The last bill in Merkley’s package is the Smoke-Ready Communities Act. It would make air quality upgrades accessible, help smoke-proof homes and help small businesses protect their customers and employees from smoke.

“The owner of a furniture store said ‘I got a whole store full of furniture that smells like smoke and I can’t sell it.’ Well, you know it’s a huge loss,” Sen. Merkley said.

Sen. Merkley says it’s not likely the bills will help this fire season, but hopes they can make a difference in the future.