Washington, D.C.– Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) today spoke on the Senate floor on the imminent danger climate change poses and the actions we must take to fight it. Below are Senator Schumer’s remarks, which can also be viewed here:
This week, the United States has suffered through some of the worst wildfire air pollution in the history of our country.
North of the border, over 400 wildfires continue blazing across Quebec and many parts of Eastern Canada, and winds are sending smoke and toxic air across the border and into our cities, into our communities – into our lungs.
To walk through New York City yesterday was to walk on another planet – the orange fog of wildfire smoke left our city unrecognizable. Sadly, New York City had the worst air quality of any major city in the world yesterday, even more than such cities as Delhi or Jakarta, which always rate at the top of the worst air quality. And as New York City had the worst air quality, the pollution was even worse for Upstate New York. From Bayside to Brooklyn, from Buffalo to Binghamton, my home state looked like the scene of a scary movie.
Across the Northeast, schools cancelled outdoor activities and afterschool programs. The Yankees, the Phillies, and the New York Liberty, all postponed their games. People as far west as Indianapolis and as far south as South Carolina have been impacted. I urge all people here in Washington and across the United States to listen to local health officials and take every precaution to stay safe.
The climate crisis is real and it is here to stay.
We must take action against the climate crisis, both short term and long term.
Short term: this morning, I am calling on Secretary Tom Vilsack to double the number of Forest Service personnel deployed to fight these fires in Canada. I am calling on the Secretary of Agriculture to double the number of personnel to mitigate the risk in the air for millions of Americans. I am sending a letter to him asking to double the Forest Service personnel, and I ask Unanimous Consent that this letter be entered into the record.
These unprecedented wildfires are a crisis for both Canada and the United States, so both nations must respond speedily and forcefully to contain the blazes. The best way to ensure the U.S. does not suffer another wave of wildfire air pollution is to contain these fires up in Canada as soon as possible. That’s getting at the source, and that’s what we need to do. It won’t be easy, but the federal government, our federal government, must explore all options on the table to keep Americans safe. We must send personnel, we must send equipment, and we must offer any assistance that our friends north of the border need.
Over the last two years, the Senate passed billions in funding to mitigate and respond to wildfires. We did it when we passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law and the Inflation Reduction Act. The American Rescue Plan also provided huge sums to help schools improve their air filtration systems. Today, these investments are paying off. Many schools are safer and cleaner because of the legislation we passed, but there is much more to do.
On the long term: there is little doubt that climate change has exacerbated both the depth and breadth of these fires in Canada. We cannot fully account for these fires without recognizing that climate change is making disasters like this far more common and far more destructive. Temperatures in May reached record levels in Canada, and warmer temperatures means that forest fires often burn faster, burn hotter, and burn bigger.
We’re seeing this play out in real time: Canadian officials say their country is now on track for their worst season of wildfire destruction on record.
What we considered freak incidents today could become the norm tomorrow – and the more we ignore our obligation to lower carbon emissions, the greater the risks of these disasters.
That’s why Democrats passed the largest package of clean energy investments in American history last year through the Inflation Reduction Act. But both parties have an obligation to do more – both to reduce our carbon emissions and make sure we all have the resources necessary to respond to natural disasters, so many of them caused or exacerbated by climate change.
In the coming days, I will continue to reach out to the Administration to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to help contain the fires up north. That’s the best thing we can do to keep American citizens across the country safe and healthy.