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Another Summer of Wildfires and Air Quality Emergencies

A third straight summer spent in a haze of smoke from nearby wildfires is taking a psychological toll on Seattle residents. A political response is also taking shape.
August 27, 2018, 2pm PDT | James Brasuell | @CasualBrasuell
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David Kroman writes about a third consecutive summer of smoke in Seattle as smoke from wildfires in Canada and the Cascade Mountains blanket the city.

This is the worst year yet. University of Washington weather expert Cliff Mass reported that, on Monday afternoon, a Puget Sound Clean Air Agency site in the city recorded the highest levels of smoke for a one-hour period since monitoring began about two decades ago. Last Wednesday, he reported that two spots in the region had recorded the worst 24 hours of air quality on record for either spot.

The poor quality has put a serious damper on summer. Tourists can't see the surrounding city and mountain ranges from the Space Needle, the local Major league Soccer Team cancelled its summer camps, planes have been delayed, and residents have been urged to stay indoors. "Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan issued a press release urging residents to stay indoors and avoid driving, but some residents turned to their cars, adding to the smoke, to avoid spending time outside," according to Kroman.

As noted by Kroman, Gov. Jay Inslee seized the moment by advocating for Initiative 1631, which would implement a new carbon tax if approved by voters in November. King 5 News reported on a press conference where the governor discussed that legislation in reference to the air quality emergency.

The Seattle chapter of the Sierra Club also released a call to action in response to the smoke, calling for free public transit on bad air quality days, increased tolls for driving over bridges and surcharges for commercial parking, and more.

"The Sierra Club also strongly encourages everyone to support action to move our region, our state, our country, and our planet off of fossil fuels, in order to address the underlying causes of these massive firestorms. That begins with supporting the passage of Initiative 1631 in November," according to the blog post issuing the call to action.

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Published on Tuesday, August 21, 2018 in CityLab
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