Washington (July 20, 2023) – Senator Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), a member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, today celebrated the advancement of the Pandemic and All Hazards Preparedness Act reauthorization through the HELP Committee, including his language to ensure the federal government has the tools and information necessary to address the health risks of artificial intelligence (AI), promote the safe use of gene synthesis, and better prepare and respond to the public health risks of climate change.

“The climate crisis is a health crisis. Americans today are living under constant extreme heat advisories and rebuilding their homes and their lives in the wake of climate disasters, from floods to wildfires,” said Senator Markey. “While the Pandemic and All Hazards Preparedness Act reauthorization falls short of meeting the urgency of this moment, I am proud this legislation makes strides, including my language to update our National Health Security Strategy, so our nation can better prepare for extreme weather events made worse by the climate crisis. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues to building a more resilient, better-prepared health care system because American families and health care workers are counting on us.”

Senator Markey continued, “Future risk requires action now. The legislation advanced today also includes my language to ensure the federal government has the right tools and information to anticipate the health risks of AI and to safeguard the use of gene synthesis for innovation and creation—instead of damage and destruction.”

The Pandemic and All Hazards Preparedness Act​ reauthorization that advanced through the HELP Committee today includes Senator Markey’s language to:

  • Ensure that extreme weather events and natural disasters that are intensified by the climate crisis are considered as part of the National Health Security Strategy, so federal authorities can promote public health by strengthening medical preparedness and response efforts;
  • Direct the National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine to report on the health risks of artificial intelligence (AI), drawing from his and Senator Ted Budd’s (R-N.C.) Artificial Intelligence and Biosecurity Risk Assessment Act, and for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to report to Congress on actions taken in light of this report, as AI safety experts have increasingly warned that AI may assist in the development of chemical and biological weapons, potentially allowing malicious actors to design dangerous weapons with limited technical knowledge; and,
  • Direct HHS to update their guidance on the screening of gene synthesis products, drawing from his and Representative Anna Eshoo’s (CA-16) Securing Gene Synthesis Act.

This Congress, as chair of the Senate HELP and Environment and Public Works subcommittees overseeing primary health and climate, Senator Markey has led his colleagues in the call to advance health justice by protecting health care workers and environmental justice communities bearing the brunt of the climate crisis. In April, he and Representatives Ro Khanna (CA-17), Pramila Jayapal (WA-07), Summer Lee (PA-12), and Maxwell Frost (FL-10) announced the Green New Deal for Health to enable the U.S. health care system to respond to climate change by improving sustainability and supporting patients, providers and communities. 

Earlier this week, Senator Markey and Representative Eshoo introduced the Securing Gene Synthesis Act, which would direct HHS to assess potential regulations of gene synthesis products and require gene synthesis providers to enact screening protocols. The legislation would also mandate any federal agency or entity receiving federal funds that buys gene synthesis products to only purchase them from suppliers who are compliant with screening regulations. Gene synthesis is a widely used technique to create DNA for applications such as research and drug production. However, there is increasing concern that gene synthesis could be used to create pathogens capable of causing a new pandemic. Requiring synthesis companies to screen their products would protect the public from dangerous synthetic DNA, while still allowing for scientific and industrial uses.

On Tuesday, Senators Markey and Budd also introduced the Artificial Intelligence and Biosecurity Risk Assessment Act and the Strategy for Public Health Preparedness and Response to Artificial Intelligence Threats Act, key pieces of legislation that would empower the federal government to better understand the public health security risks of AI by directing the Assistant Secretary for Preparedness and Response under HHS to conduct comprehensive risk assessments of AI and its advances.