Senate Passes Cantwell’s Volcano Early Warning and Monitoring Bill

Legislation improves and strengthens volcano monitoring and early warning capabilities, including existing stations in Washington and Oregon, to help protect communities and citizens from volcanic activity; Bill’s passage comes one day before Washington state marks the 38th anniversary of deadly Mount St. Helens eruption

Washington, D.C. – With increased attention on volcanic activity in the United States, including the five active volcanoes in Washington state, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA), the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, today secured passage of S. 346, the National Volcano Early Warning and Monitoring System Act. This legislation improves the nation’s volcano monitoring and early warning capabilities and strengthens existing monitoring systems, including the Cascades Volcano Observatory in Washington state and Oregon, to help keep communities and travelers safe.

Currently, Washington state has five active volcanoes, including two of the top three most dangerous volcanoes in the United States, according to the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS). They are: Mount St. Helens, Mount Rainier, Glacier Peak, Mount Baker, and Mount Adams.

“This bill connects needed volcano monitoring systems in the Pacific Ring of Fire. Washingtonians remember the impact the Mt. St. Helens eruption had on our communities 38 years ago,” Senator Cantwell said. “Our state has five of the highest threat volcanoes in the nation, and as we’re seeing in Hawaii right now, these volcanoes are a persistent and serious threat. The safety of our communities is paramount, and our legislation will ensure we have the science, technology, and monitoring needed to keep people informed and safe.”

S. 346 strengthens existing volcano monitoring systems – which include the Cascades Volcano Observatory, the Alaska Volcano Observatory, and the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory – and would unify them into a single connected system called the National Volcano Early Warning System. These observatories monitor, warn, and help protect citizens and travelers from volcanic activity – particularly high-threat volcanoes.

The bill also creates a Volcano Watch Office that will operate 24-hours a day, seven days a week, to provide continuous situational awareness of all active volcanoes in the U.S. and its territories, such as the ongoing eruption of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii.

The passage of Senator Cantwell’s legislation comes one day before Washington state marks the 38th anniversary of the 1980 eruption of Mount St. Helens. That blast sent ash and pyroclastic flow more than 15 miles into the atmosphere and triggered the largest landslide ever recorded, killing 57 people and causing more than $1 billion in damage to surrounding communities.

Senator Cantwell is the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, which has jurisdiction over the USGS and its Volcano Hazards Program. She introduced the legislation with Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), the committee’s chairman, and Senator Mazie Hirono (D-HI), also a member of the committee. The bill now moves on to consideration in the House of Representatives.