Biden announces plan to combat extreme heat caused by climate change

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The Biden administration on Monday morning announced an interagency plan to deal with the effects of frequent extreme heat waves caused by global warming.

Extreme heat is now the leading weather-related killer in the United States, and it is becoming more common and severe. This summer, at 2.6 degrees Fahrenheit above the historical average, was the warmest on record in the continental United States.

U.S. President Joe Biden speaks during a conference call on climate change with the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate in the South Court Auditorium in the Eisenhower Executive Office Building on September 17, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Al Drago/Getty Images)
President Biden on Friday during a conference call on climate change with the Major Economies Forum on Energy and Climate. (Al Drago/Getty Images)

“While we have all seen the graphic and heart-wrenching images of super-storms, wildfires, and floods in recent weeks, another climate disaster is lurking just below the radar: extreme heat,” President Biden said in a statement. “As with other weather events, extreme heat is gaining in frequency and ferocity due to climate change, threatening communities across the country. ... My Administration will not leave Americans to face this threat alone.”

The administration’s plan has four main components, according to a fact sheet distributed by the White House:

Limiting workplace exposure. The Department of Labor will develop regulations and processes to set and enforce regulations limiting extreme heat exposure for outdoor workers, in industries like agriculture, construction and delivery, and indoor workers, including factory, warehouse and kitchen staff.

Helping families cool off. The Department of Health and Human Services has issued guidance giving states, tribes and territories the flexibility to use funds already designated for assisting low-income households with heating bills and instead direct those funds for air conditioning. The Environmental Protection Agency is using money from the American Rescue Plan — the COVID-19 relief and economic stimulus package passed in March — to develop cooling centers in public schools.

Advising local efforts to fight the “urban heat island effect.” The streets and buildings of cities tend to worsen extreme heat, which has a disproportionate impact on Black and Latino neighborhoods. According to a recent EPA report that analyzed 49 cities, “Black and African American individuals are 40-59% more likely than non-Black and non-African American individuals to currently live in high-impact areas.” The administration hopes states and cities will use that data, and the tools suggested in a new Forest Service report such as tree planting and other natural approaches to greening and cooling, to reduce the severity of urban heat islands.

Fire Fighters with Cal Fire work to protect the St. Helena Water Treatment Plant from the Glass Fire in Napa Valley, California on September 27, 2020. (Samuel Corum/AFP via Getty Images)
Firefghters work to protect the St. Helena Water Treatment Plant from the Glass Fire in Napa Valley, Calif., in September 2020. (Samuel Corum/AFP via Getty Images)

Calling all experts. The National Integrated Heat Health Information System, an interagency group put together by the White House, is monitoring and sharing data on extreme heat and will hold an April meeting to come up with better measures to address it. Meanwhile, the Department of Homeland Security is launching prize competitions for ideas to adapt to climate change, the first of which will be focused on extreme heat.

All of these moves, with the exception of planting new trees, address only some of the symptoms of climate change rather than the main cause, which is the increased atmospheric concentrations of heat-trapping gases.

The White House is also arguing that Congress should pass the remainder of the president’s domestic agenda, including a variety of proposals aimed not only at adapting to climate change but also at reducing it by shifting the country from reliance on fossil fuels to clean sources of energy such as solar and wind.

But with Republicans largely in lockstep against most of the White’s House’s priorities, and moderate Democratic Sens. Joe Manchin and Kyrsten Sinema balking at the price tag of their party’s budget proposal, it’s unclear how much of Biden’s larger climate agenda will be enacted.


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