Senate committee scrutinizes federal response to wildfires with Eastern Seaboard up in smoke

Published: Jun. 8, 2023 at 3:25 PM CDT
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WASHINGTON (Gray DC) - Canadian wildfires continue to pump smoke across the eastern seaboard, causing extremely unhealthy conditions for millions of Americans. As the smoke continues to flow south, senators on Capitol Hill are hoping to address the larger issue of the impact of wildfires across the country, scrutinizing the federal government’s response to wildfires on U.S. soil, and how to prevent them from happening.

A panel of officials testified before the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Thursday to discuss mitigation.

“We need to address how we continue to manage our forests by making strategic investments in them. We must continue to implement more active forest management,” said Kelly Norris, Wyoming’s interim state forester.

She discussed her state’s tactics dealing with wildfires, stressing the need for better maintenance. Norris also told the committee shortages in firefighter staffing are dire. Senator John Barrasso (R-WY) addressed that challenge during the hearing.

“For years our firefighters have been asked to do too much for too little in return. The only way to ensure that we have enough firefighters to defend our forests into the future is to ensure that they are fully supported and compensated,” said Barrasso.

The committee is looking at how the federal government can speed up both its mitigation tactics as well as its responses when fires do spiral out of control. Meanwhile the White House is focusing on why these fires are increasing in frequency and severity.

“When you look outside today, this is what climate change looks like,” said Allison Crimmins, director of National Climate Assessment.

Crimmins says more firefighters are being deployed to help quell the fires. She also points people to for live updates on air quality. But Crimmins adds the bigger picture is in focus for the administration.

“Things that can be done more broadly to reduce greenhouse emissions and help avoid some of these wildfires in the future,” said Crimmins.

While these wildfires sent the east coast into a tailspin, the western United States deals with severe fires and bad air quality annually. The wildfire season out west is expected to begin later in summer and continue through the fall.