27 July 2023

Joe Biden announces measures to protect workers from heatwaves

27 July 2023

President Joe Biden has announced new steps to protect workers from heatwaves spreading across the US.

The measures include a hazard alert notifying employers and employees about ways to stay protected from extreme heat as well as plans to improve weather forecasts and make drinking water more accessible.

The action comes as nearly 40% of the US population faces heat advisories, according to the National Weather Service.

High temperatures have already scorched the South West this month, and more heat is expected in the Mid West and the North East in the coming days.

Washington will be spared, and the heat index in the capital could reach 43C on Friday.

It is a worldwide problem and scientists calculate that July will be the hottest month on record.

Noting that ocean temperatures near Miami topped 38C, Mr Biden said “that’s more like jumping in a hot tub than jumping into the ocean to ride a wave”.

Citing federal data, Mr Biden called extreme heat the number one weather-related killer in the United States.

“Even those places that are used to extreme heat have never seen it as hot as it is now for as long as it’s been,” Mr Biden said. “Even those who deny that we’re in the midst of a climate crisis can’t deny the impact extreme heat is having on Americans.”

Mr Biden’s bid to address the immediate effects of climate change come as he faces pressure from fellow Democrats and environmental groups to declare a climate “emergency”, a step he has so far resisted.

The steps announced on Thursday supplement his long-term agenda for reducing greenhouse gas emissions and deploying clean energy technology, policies that may not pay dividends for years to come while global temperatures continue to rise.

Mr Biden directed the Labour Department to increase inspections of potentially dangerous workplaces such as farms and construction sites and called for heightened enforcement of heat safety violations.

As part of the initiative, the department will issue a hazard alert notifying employers and employees about ways to stay protected from extreme heat, which has killed 436 workers since 2011, according to federal statistics.

The Biden administration plans to spend 7 million dollars to develop more detailed weather predictions to anticipate extreme weather like heatwaves, plus 152 million dollars to boost drinking water infrastructure and climate resilience in California, Colorado and Washington.

Mr Biden was joined on Thursday by acting Labour Secretary Julie Su, as well as the leaders of the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

The mayors of Phoenix and San Antonio, two cities that have suffered from the heatwaves, participated in the White House event virtually.

“Phoenix is known for heat,” said Mayor Kate Gallego. “We are often called the Valley of the Sun. But right now, this summer has really been unprecedented. It’s taking a real toll on our community. We feel like we are very much on the front lines of climate change.”

Phoenix is the first in the nation to have a permanent, publicly funded heat office, Ms Gallego said, with efforts now focused on getting residents inside as much as possible at public cooling centres and encouraging use of water stations throughout the city.

Phoenix has seen at least 27 days in a row of temperatures exceeding 43.3C. No other major city — defined as the 25 most populous in the United States — has had any stretch of 38C days or 32C nights longer than Phoenix, said weather historian Christopher Burt, of the Weather Company.

Maricopa County, where Phoenix is located, reported recently that there were 25 heat-associated deaths between April 11 and July 22. An additional 249 deaths remain under investigation. There were 425 heat-associated deaths in the county last year.

Other areas of Arizona are also struggling. A 26-year-old farm worker died after collapsing in the fields on July 20, when the temperature reached 46.7 C, according to the Yuma County Sheriff’s Office.

San Antonio, Texas, saw at least 15 straight days of 38C temperatures or above. At least 13 deaths in Texas have been blamed on the extreme heat.

San Antonio Mayor Ron Nirenberg said his city has moved to end the use of coal and is launching its first advanced rapid transit line, which will feature low or zero-emission vehicles. The city is also developing solar power and other renewable energy, he said.

“I’m confident that the state best known for oil and gas production can help lead the way to a greener tomorrow,” he said.

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