WASHINGTON — The same day Kilauea shot ash 30,000 feet into the air on Hawaii’s Big Island, the U.S. Senate passed bipartisan legislation that aims to create an early warning system for volcanoes.

Thursday’s eruption was the impetus for bringing the bill to the floor for a vote.

The legislation, which still must pass the House and be signed by President Donald Trump, directs the U.S. Geological Survey to create a new federal “volcano watch office” that would monitor active volcanoes in the U.S. and its territories on a 24/7 basis.

Kilauea helped Congress bridge the partisan divide in Congress. Anthony Quintano/Civil Beat/2018

Such observatories already exist in Hawaii, Alaska, California, Wyoming and Washington, but the legislation would upgrade and integrate the systems, expand the number of volcanoes that are monitored and create a grant program that would support research into emergency technologies.

“Volcanic eruptions, like the one in Hawaii and the one earlier this month at Cleveland Volcano in Alaska, are vivid reminders of why it is so critical to have continuous and reliable monitoring systems,” U.S. Sen. Lisa Murkowski said in a statement after Thursday’s vote.

Murkowski, a Republican who represents Alaska, introduced the bill in February 2017. It was co-sponsored by U.S. Sens. Mazie Hirono, of Hawaii, and Maria Cantwell, of Washington, both of whom are Democrats.

According to the USGS, there are 169 potentially active volcanoes in the U.S. with most of them in Alaska. The Cleveland Volcano, which Murkowski mentioned in her statement, is located in the Aleutian Islands earlier this month, spewing ash 22,000 feet into the air.

Recent activity at Kilauea displaced more than 2,000 residents and consumed dozens of homes. It’s also been the subject of high profile media coverage that’s reached beyond Hawaii.

“Scientists at the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory are working around the clock to provide critical, up-to-date information to keep Hawaii Island residents safe,” Hirono said in a written statement about the legislation that passed Thursday.

“This bipartisan bill supports their important efforts by updating and unifying the five volcano observatories across the nation and creating a grant program to support monitoring research and technology development.”

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that if the legislation passed Thursday were implemented it would cost $55 million between 2018 and 2022.

Thoughts on this or any other story? Write a Letter to the Editor. Send to news@civilbeat.org and put Letter in the subject line. 200 words max. You need to use your name and city and include a contact phone for verification purposes. And you can still comment on stories on our Facebook page.

About the Author