June 13, 2023
WASHINGTON, D.C. - Today, Representative Scott Peters (CA-50) and Senators Michael Bennet (D-CO) and Jeff Merkley (D-OR) introduced legislation to reduce the negative public health effects of wildfire smoke for vulnerable communities. The Cleaner Air Spaces Act (CASA) would provide grants to vastly expand local programs that provide free air filtration units to households and establish clean air centers in communities vulnerable to wildfire smoke.
Wildfires are now the largest source of particulate pollution in the United States, creating more than 40% of the nation’s fine particulate matter air pollution. Particulate pollution from wildfire smoke is more harmful to human health compared to other pollution sources and tens of millions of Americans are at risk of experiencing high levels of exposure. Vulnerable populations, such as infants, the elderly, and people with pre-existing health conditions such as respiratory or cardiovascular disease, are at higher risk of negative health effects from wildfire smoke. Extreme smoke events are already increasing emergency room visits and more people will be at risk as wildfires continue to grow in frequency and intensity.
“The Canadian wildfires that blanketed the east coast in hazardous smoke last week are another reminder of how no one is safe from the public health implications of climate change,” said Rep Peters. “Catastrophic wildfires, driven by decades of poor land management and a warming planet, are now the single largest source of particulate pollution in the United States, and in 2020 California wildfires released more CO2 than the state's entire power sector. California cities like San Diego are leading the way with programs to provide air filtration units, air monitors, and clean air centers for communities at risk of this dangerous pollution. This bill will help vastly expand these vital programs to meet the challenge of protecting vulnerable communities from more extreme wildfires.”
“Coloradans are all too familiar with the wildfire smoke that engulfed communities across the East Coast last week – it’s a reality that we have long dealt with in our state and across the West,” said Senator Bennet. “As we face a 1,200 year drought, a changing climate, and a future that is going to be a lot hotter and a lot drier with longer and more severe wildfire seasons, Congress needs to pass this bill to reduce the health risks posed by wildfire smoke and ensure every community has access to clean air.”
“Oregonians suffer from unsafe air produced by wildfire smoke year after year,” said Sen. Merkley, who has led on efforts to address wildfire smoke as the Chair of the Interior Appropriations Subcommittee. “The dangers of wildfire smoke are far reaching, impacting our health, homes, and livelihoods. I will never forget driving over 600 miles during the 2020 Labor Day fires and never once being able to escape the thick layer of smoke that blanketed my state. This legislation we are introducing today gives us another tool in the toolbox to take on wildfire smoke threats and meet this critical moment.”
Quotes in Support:
“Dangerous air pollution from wildfires, as millions of people in the eastern U.S. and beyond experienced recently, can cause profound and lasting damage to the body. Exposure for even a few days can worsen asthma and heart disease and trigger strokes and lung infections, among other ailments, putting children and older people at greatest risk. With climate change fueling longer and more active fire seasons, this bill will help to protect families and communities from the health harms by creating spaces for them to breathe safely.” - Elizabeth Gore, Senior Vice President for Political Affairs, Environmental Defense Fund. “
“I am pleased to see this legislation get introduced as a result of research conducted by UC San Diego's Scripps Institution of Oceanography and Herbert Wertheim School of Public Health and Human Longevity Science that highlights the deep and devastating impacts wildfires have on humans and our communities. Innovative and adaptive interdisciplinary solutions are critical as we continue to experience changing environmental conditions.” - Margaret Leinen, Vice Chancellor Marine Sciences, and Director, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, UC San Diego.
“Environmental Health Coalition strongly supports Congressman Peters’ Clean Air Spaces Act of 2023 to bring immediate relief to communities that are already suffering from high exposure to particulate matter and other air pollutants. Unfortunately, the total acreage historically burned by wildfires in San Diego County continues to be at an all-time high. Wildfires’ intense exposure to particulate matter in communities already suffering from asthma and other respiratory illness is a disaster to people’s health as well as to the environment. Distribution of air purifiers in impacted communities will protect our most vulnerable -- our children and families living in environmental justice neighborhoods.” - Environmental Health Coalition.
“The Clean Air Spaces Act (CASA) will provide vital tools to protect vulnerable communities during wildfire smoke exposure. Creating clean air spaces is crucial for individuals who are predisposed to be more heavily affected by the negative health impacts of wildfire smoke. With the rise in wildfires over the past several years, these spaces are becoming increasingly important in protecting these vulnerable populations.” - San Diego County Air Pollution Control District
“We are excited to support the Cleaner Air Spaces Act, which would increase the number of ‘clean air rooms’ for families and ‘clean air centers’ for communities most affected by wildfire smoke, as well as provide critical educational and community partnership components. Wildfire smoke poses serious health threats, especially for vulnerable populations. The more that can be done to raise awareness about health-protective actions, the better.” - Aeron Arlin Genet, Executive Director and Air Pollution Control Officer for Santa Barbara County Air Pollution Control District which launched its Clean Air Rooms Pilot Program in 2021.
A letter of support from the Bay Area Air Quality Management District can be found here.
"This spring, as Canadian Wildfire smoke lingered along the Front Range for several days, the Denver metro area experienced some of the worst air quality in the world. Many of us retreated to safe rooms in our homes with windows closed and air filters running around the clock. Unfortunately, not all families can afford to create safe spaces to protect their lungs from wildfire smoke, and that is why we support the Cleaner Air Spaces Act (CASA). Everyone deserves to be safe from the dangers of wildfire smoke, and we thank Senator Bennet for introducing this important legislation.” - Laurie Anderson, Field Organizer, Moms Clean Air Force Colorado Chapter
“We are thrilled that the Cleaner Air Space Act (CASA) was introduced today by Senator Bennet and Representative Peters. We are living through a climate emergency, where wildfires are more frequent, larger and more catastrophic than in past generations. Latinos across the nation live closer to wildfire-prone areas and this bill will help establish clean air spaces to protect families and vulnerable communities from the harmful effects of wildfire smoke, centering equity and ensuring access to information, free air filtration and community clean air centers, which will protect the most vulnerable in our community.” - Beatriz Soto, Protégete Director, Conservation Colorado
"Moms care deeply about the quality of the air their children breathe because it is critical to their health. While we firmly believe that we must address the climate crisis that is making wildfires much more severe, we know that we aren't there yet. Children deserve clean air both outside and in their homes. This legislation will help communities protect kids by creating safe places when the air outside is dangerous." - Jen Clanahan, Co-Director, Mountain Mamas
Cleaner Air Spaces Act details:
- Provides grants to support local cleaner air spaces programs. The programs must:
- provide at least 1,000 free air filtration units and one replacement filter for the air filtration units to low-income households with individuals vulnerable to wildfire smoke;
- provide educational materials to help eligible households best utilize the air filtration unit and create a clean air room in their home;
- establish at least one public clean air center.
- Requires grant recipients to partner with local organizations.
- Requires a report to Congress with survey data from the cleaner air spaces programs and recommendations on if and how the programs should be modified or expanded.
Senate: Bennet (D-CO), Merkley (D-OR), Blumenthal (D-CT), Whitehouse (D-RI), Cortez Masto (D-NV), Wyden (D-OR), Gillibrand (D-NY)
House: Peters (CA-50), Jacobs (CA-51), Clarke (NY-9), Phillips (MN-3), Titus (NV-1), Moulton (MA-6), Khanna (CA-17), Crockett (TX-30), Caraveo (CO-8), Thompson (CA-4), Panetta (CA-19), Velazquez (NY-7)
One pager here.
Full text of the legislation here.