Washington, D.C. – Today, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) sent the following letter to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack urging the U.S. Forest Services to increase the number of personnel deployed to Canada to help fight the forest fires.
Over the past few days, the Northeast – including much of New York State – has been overtaken by a thick haze of wildfire smoke. Toxic air and smoke is bellowing across the border and putting the health of families and communities across the East Coast at risk, forcing them, no matter their health, to attempt to seek shelter indoors. Workers have to make impossible decisions between their safety and their livelihood; everything from afterschool activities to Broadway shows, to sporting events and flights have been cancelled.
Today, Leader Schumer wrote to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack, who manages the Forest Service, to call on the U.S. Forest Service to immediately double the personnel deployed to Canada to fight these forest fires and ultimately end the spread of hazardous air from these wildfires. Schumer called on Secretary Vilsack to get any and all available help needed by the Canadian government to contain the fire and return the air quality back to a normal, healthy level. Schumer said these unprecedented wildfires are a crisis for both Canada and the United States, making it imperative that both nations respond speedily and forcefully to contain the blazes.
“It is unfathomable that millions of Americans cannot even step outside without compromising their health and safety,” said Leader Schumer. “The best way to ensure the U.S. does not suffer another wave of wildfire air pollution from these fires is to contain them as soon as possible. That will not be easy, but the Federal Government must explore all options on the table to keep Americans safe. We must send over personnel and equipment, and offer any assistance that our friends north of the border need. Climate change has taken these once-in-a-hundred-years events and turned them into yearly occurrences. I am proud that Democrats have accelerated the transition to clean energy through bills like the Inflation Reduction Act. But this wildfire is a stark reminder that without further intervention, our country will continue to have to fight these unprecedented events. In the meantime, we need all hands on deck to make our air clean, healthy, and safe. Immediately.”
Schumer has long-championed environmental efforts to combat the damages caused by climate change, including historic wildfire mitigation and response funding. In the Bipartisan Infrastructure Act and the Inflation Reduction Act passed last Congress, Leader Schumer secured $7 billion in wildfire funding that the Biden Administration is currently getting out to communities throughout the country. In addition, Senate Democrats fought for and secured funding to improve air quality during the COVID-19 pandemic. Education Stabilization Funds from bills like the American Rescue Plan can be used to improve indoor air quality through efforts like filtering and purification. While these helped keep COVID out of our schools, these efforts can play a similar role in keeping out smoke. Combatting climate-change-fueled wildfires is a cross-agency effort and funding is moving to efforts like expanding the firefighter workforce and purchasing new technology to beat back fires.
The full text of the letter can be found here and below.
Dear Secretary Vilsack:
I am writing to express my concern for the health and safety of New Yorkers, and all Americans, affected by the smoke resulting from the wildfires currently raging in Quebec, Canada. I urge the U.S. Forest Service (FS) to double the personnel preparing to deploy to help Canada fight these forest fires and protect the lives and health of all those impacted throughout the country.
As you know, the Quebec wildfires of recent days have caused terrible air quality impacts across much of the northeastern United States, including New York. Today, the United States had the worst air quality in the world with New York City measuring particulate matter 14.5 times greater than the World Health Organization’s annual air quality guideline value. Over the past two days, much of New York State has faced Hazardous air quality index (AQI) ratings of over 300, levels at which all people are likely to be affected, no matter their health. This poor air quality has caused flight cancellations, restaurant closures, and Broadway show cancellations, grinding New York City, and the rest of the state, to a halt. Rapidly returning our air quality to normal, healthy levels is of the utmost importance.
Containing these fires is the best way to prevent more smoke from drifting into the U.S. and returning air quality in New York and elsewhere to healthy levels. To assist their Canadian counterparts in their firefighting efforts, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has already deployed one Forest Ranger to assist with efforts to contain the raging fires. The Northeastern Forest Fire Protection Compact (P.L.81-129) grants the U.S. Forest Service authority to provide necessary cross-border assistance to cope with fires beyond a sole entity’s capabilities. I ask that FS prepare to send additional personnel to provide the Canadian Forest Service with whatever necessary expertise and service they require to contain and end these fires as quickly as possible.
Thank you for your attention to this request. Please do not hesitate to contact me at 202-224-6542 with any questions.
Charles E. Schumer
United States Senator