President Joe Biden is mobilizing an interagency effort to deal with the effects of extreme heat across the country, the White House announced Monday.
Extreme heat is the leading weather-related cause of death in the US, the White House said in a fact sheet, citing record-setting temperatures over the summer and more intense and frequent heat waves due to climate change.
“My Administration will not leave Americans to face this threat alone,” Biden said in a statement. “Today, I am mobilizing an all-of-government effort to protect workers, children, seniors, and at-risk communities from extreme heat.”
Climate change is making deadly heat events even more dangerous. The Northwest’s record-breaking heat wave in June, which scientists said would have been “virtually impossible” without human-caused climate change, killed hundreds of people in Oregon, Washington and British Columbia. When Hurricane Ida pummeled Louisiana earlier this month, a heat wave exacerbated the impacts of the storm.
The compounding consequences of extreme heat don’t fall equally across communities.
A recent study from the University of California, San Diego, found that low-income neighborhoods and communities with high Black, Hispanic and Asian populations experience significantly more heat than wealthier and predominantly White neighborhoods. And Black homeowners are nearly five times more likely than White families to own homes in these historically redlined communities, according to a study by Redfin.
The fact sheet stressed the impact extreme heat has on vulnerable Americans.
“Millions of U.S. workers are exposed to heat in their workplaces, and essential jobs with high exposure levels are disproportionately held by Black and Brown workers. Heat also poses higher risks in urban centers and to children, seniors, economically disadvantaged groups, and those with underlying health conditions,” it said.
“The Department of Labor, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Environmental Protection Agency, and other agencies will work together to help ensure that the American people have safe and healthy working conditions, provide cooling assistance to homes and neighborhoods, and coordinate with state and local officials to bolster their resilience and address the impacts of this threat,” Biden said in the statement.
The Department of Labor is taking steps to protect workers facing occupational heat exposure, setting and enforcing standards via the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA will launch “a rulemaking process to develop a workplace heat standard,” implement an enforcement initiative, develop an inspection program, and form a working group, per the White House.
Additionally, the administration will build on efforts to provide cooling assistance to vulnerable Americans, with the Department of Health and Human Services issuing guidance on flexibility for federal funding for programs that will address heat, including assistance for the purchase of air conditioning units and assistance for electric bills. And the Environmental Protection Agency will work to use funding from the sweeping Covid relief package passed earlier this year to use schools as cooling centers.
The administration is also working toward increased data and research on the impact of extreme heat.
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