Rep. Stansbury, Sen. Merkley Lead Letter To FEMA Urging Critical Policy Changes

Reps. Blumenauer, Garcia, and Neguse co-lead letter on extreme heat, wildfire smoke effects

WASHINGTON – Rep. Melanie Stansbury (NM-01) led a bicameral letter with Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Oregon) urging the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to use all available resources to respond to the threats of extreme heat and wildfire smoke facing American communities.    

Reps. Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Sylvia Garcia (TX-29), and Joe Neguse (CO-02) joined as co-leads and 60 other members of Congress signed the letter.  

“Extreme heat is a growing environmental justice issue,” the lawmakers said. “Heat is the leading weather-related killer in the United States and wildfire seasons are starting earlier and ending later. As extreme heat and wildfire smoke continue to plague our communities, we urge FEMA to be more responsive to communities’ evolving needs in the face of the climate crisis.” 

Across the country, areas with higher rates of poverty experience temperatures as much as 7°F warmer during the summer months when compared with wealthier neighborhoods. Studies also show that historically redlined neighborhoods are on average at least 5°F hotter than non-redlined neighborhoods, with some as much as 13°F hotter 

FEMA has previously denied requests for extreme heat and related declarations as recently as 2022, finding that the damage from these events “was not of such severity and magnitude” to warrant a major disaster declaration. 

“We appreciate FEMA’s partnership on this emerging threat to the safety and wellbeing of communities across the United States,” the lawmakers continued. “We look forward to working with the agency to ensure it is using all appropriate and available resources to address the impacts of extreme heat and wildfire smoke.” 

In the letter, the lawmakers urge the agency to consider ongoing or anticipated public health impacts alongside FEMA’s more conventional parameters, such as the costs of damage done to physical infrastructure, when considering a disaster declaration and issue guidance explicitly related to extreme heat and wildfire smoke and publish this guidance in FEMA’s forthcoming revision to the Public Assistance Program and Policy Guide as soon as possible.  

They also outline specific changes to FEMA programs, including the Public Assistance, Individual Assistance, Hazard Mitigation Grant Program, Building Resilient Infrastructure in Communities, and Emergency Management Performance Grant Program, to better mitigate the risks, and recover from the damages, of extreme heat and wildfire smoke.