Radical environmental and labor groups—led by the Center for Biological Diversity (CBD)—are urging the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to award “major disaster” declarations for extreme heat and wildfire smoke. 

A circulated petition claims, “The crescendo of extreme heat and smoke can be traced to the same cause: anthropogenic climate change. Extreme heat and smoke from wildfires are natural weather events, but the climate crisis is increasing their severity, duration, and frequency.” 

Per the Stafford Act, extreme heat and wildfire smoke aren’t typically declared “major disasters.” Previous presidents have denied issuing declarations for excessive heat events because the “ ‘severity and magnitude’ of the incident was insufficient to warrant a declaration.” Ultimately, Congressional action—not an executive order—is required to add “extreme heat” and “wildlife smoke” to FEMA “major disaster” declarations. 

During her testimony before Congress last fall, FEMA Administrator Deanne Criswell argued her agency could classify “extreme heat” as a major disaster if warranted and said, “The Stafford Act does not need to be amended to include extreme heat. We base our decisions on a number of factors, mostly on what—does it exceed the capacity of the state and local jurisdictions. If the response to an extreme heat incident exceeds the capacity of a state and local jurisdiction, they are very open to submit a disaster declaration request. And we will consider that based on whether or not it exceeds their capacity.” 

Currently, the following natural events qualify as “major disasters” under FEMA (bolded for emphasis): 

The President can declare a major disaster for any natural event, including any hurricane, tornado, storm, high water, wind-driven water, tidal wave, tsunami, earthquake, volcanic eruption, landslide, mudslide, snowstorm, or drought, or, regardless of cause, fire, flood, or explosion, that the President determines has caused damage of such severity that it is beyond the combined capabilities of state and local governments to respond.  A major disaster declaration provides a wide range of federal assistance programs for individuals and public infrastructure, including funds for both emergency and permanent work.

The underlying causes of wildfire smoke, much to the chagrin of the CBD, isn’t climate change but excessive live fuels. As I noted in the Daily Caller back in 2021:

A recent IOP Science study of key drivers behind fires determined that live fuel contributes the most to fires (53%) — followed by weather (23%) and climate change (14%). Even in California, top forest scientists point to massive accumulation of wood fuel, not climate change, as the underlying factor behind intense events.


The activists’ petition claims extreme heat “exacerbates environmental injustice” for those in Justice40 communities in that they endure “nearly 50 days of health threatening heat days per year” compared to other communities. It adds, “The legacy of racist redlining has concentrated these populations in structurally deficient housing that is costlier to heat and cool. This vulnerability is compounded by the deprivation of adequate tree cover, shade, and green space from Black and Brown neighborhoods.”

Donna Jackson, Project 21 Director of Membership Development and IWF Center for Energy and Conservation board advisory member, argues Biden’s energy and climate policies do an actual disservice to those in so-called Justice40 communities. 

“Whatever ‘environmental justice’ might mean to the Biden administration, there’s hardly justice when the federal government’s own environmental policies make it more difficult for low-income families and all Americans to access affordable energy while limiting the personal choices available to meet basic needs,” she explained in a Washington Examiner op-ed.

Amending major disaster declarations on environmental justice grounds could invite more special interest groups to launder and waste federal taxpayer dollars. 

In February, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) revealed that most underserved communities didn’t receive federal dollars promised to them on environmental justice grounds in the 2021 American Rescue Plan Act. Instead, 90% of a $4.3 million EJ grant went to nonprofit employee salaries, benefits, and vacation expenses.

Excessive heat and wildfire smoke are to be treated seriously, not politicized by radical environmental groups who interfere with conservation and environmental progress.