Senate Democrats Push to Give Biden Power to Declare ‘Smoke Emergency’

Source: By Ari Natter, Bloomberg • Posted: Thursday, July 20, 2023

  • Measure would authorize ‘smoke shelters,’ relocation funding, Legislation comes amid record-setting Canadian wildfire season

The US Capitol shrouded in smoke from Canada wildfires in Washington, DC, on June 8.
The US Capitol shrouded in smoke from Canada wildfires in Washington, DC, on June 8. Photographer: Al Drago/Bloomberg

President Joe Biden would have the power to declare a wildfire “smoke emergency” under a bill introduced Wednesday by Senate Democrats as record-setting Canadian wildfires inundate the US with toxic smoke.

The legislation from Senator Jeff Merkley, an Oregon Democrat, would allow Biden to marshal federal agencies to provide emergency assistance to states, including the establishment of “smoke shelters,” relocation efforts and emergency smoke monitors, according to a summary. The measure would also authorize financial relief to businesses affected by wildfire smoke to help recover lost revenue.

More than 100 million people in the US have been placed under air-quality alerts this summer as choking smoke from wildfires pours into the country, threatening flights and leading people to mask up or stay inside. Across Canada, 886 fires are currently burning, with 566 raging out of control, according to the Canadian Interagency Forest Fire Centre. Since the start of this year, more than 4,200 fires have burned 11 million hectares (27.2 million acres.)

— With Brian K Sullivan