December 13, 2021

Neguse Introduces Legislation to Help Individuals At Risk of Wildfire Smoke Inhalation

Washington D.C.— Today, Congressman Joe Neguse unveiled bicameral legislation that would provide federal emergency assistance to at-risk individuals in Colorado and nationwide suffering from unhealthy air quality caused by wildfire smoke.

“As we face worsening wildfire seasons in Colorado and across the West, it is imperative that we prepare our communities for all of the devastating effects caused by fires, from structural damage to health effects,” said Congressman Joe Neguse. “The Wildfire Smoke Relief Act will go a long way towards making sure that folks in our communities who are at risk of medical complications from wildfire smoke are adequately equipped for the season.”

“We know how devastating wildfires are to those that are directly impacted by them but the last several years have shown us that wildfires impact all of us through the smoke that hangs in our beautiful Colorado air,” said Gino Greco, CEO of American Red Cross of Colorado & Wyoming. “This legislation would allow for assistance to those we often don’t think are affected by these disasters, but indeed are.” 

“With climate change creating more destructive and longer-lasting wildfire seasons in Colorado and throughout the west, wildfire smoke is going to be a serious air quality concern for our communities,” said Jill Hunsaker Ryan, executive director of the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment. “It is crucial that individuals exposed to the dangers of wildfire smoke have access to resources to protect themselves and their families. We are grateful for Congressman Neguse’s leadership and partnership in addressing climate change.”

“Oregonians gasping for breath in neighborhoods clouded by wildfire smoke for weeks on end deserve the same consideration as other disaster victims. As the climate crisis grows worse, this is all the more urgent,” Wyden said. “Clean air is essential, and more must be done now to prepare and protect the health and safety of families from the harms of dangerous wildfires and their smoke.”

The Wildfire Smoke Relief Act, led by Neguse in the House, is the companion to Senate legislation originally introduced in the 116th Congress by Senators Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR). The Act would provide federal emergency assistance to at-risk individuals—including the elderly, children and infants, low-income families, pregnant women, and those with chronic health conditions worsened by wildfire smoke—in areas with unhealthy air quality caused by wildfires by:

  • Authorizing the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to provide these individuals with low-cost home improvements and smoke inhalation prevention equipment—like masks and air filters—when wildfire smoke causes unhealthy air quality levels for three consecutive days, and 
  • Allowing FEMA to provide transitional sheltering assistance for at-risk individuals in extreme circumstances.  

2020 was an unprecedented wildfire season for Colorado, with over 1,000 fires burning a total of 665,454 acres of land. Communities in the Second District and across the state are still rebuilding and recovering from damage caused by fires like the Cameron Peak, East Troublesome, Calwood, and Lefthand Canyon fires. Moreover, in 2021 alone, Colorado has spent more than 100 days under air quality or fire weather alerts due to wildfire smoke and ozone pollution, threatening the wellbeing of thousands of Coloradans who are vulnerable to the negative health effects stemming from smoke inhalation.

Background:

In the wake of Colorado’s historic 2020 wildfire season, Congressman Neguse has worked to bring federal resources home to recovering communities and advocate for increased support for wildland firefighters, wildfire prevention, and forest management. Earlier this year, Congressman Neguse launched the Bipartisan Wildfire Caucus to focus on tackling western wildfires and was elected to serve as Chair of the U.S. Subcommittee on National Parks, Forests and Public Lands, where his Restoring Our Lands and Communities Agenda prioritizes addressing the causes and impacts of wildfires. Neguse also introduced the Tim Hart Wildland Classification and Pay Parity Act to raise pay for wildland firefighters, provide essential benefits and address classification. Congressman Neguse recently secured over $5 billion for wildfire prevention and recovery in the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, enacted into law in November and has secured over $27 billion more in federal funding to restore our forests in the Build Back Better Act, which recently passed the House.  

Over a year ago, Congressman Neguse proposed the 21st Century Conservation Corps Act, a bold proposal to launch a new Climate Conservation Corps and make major investments in forest restoration, wildfire resiliency, and mitigation, which has been included in the Build Back Better Act and is on its way to becoming law.