Jul 28, 2023 - Climate

Biden heat announcement falls short on immediate relief

President Biden at a podium with Mayor Kate Gallego on a screen in the background.

President Biden was joined virtually by Mayor Kate Gallego. Photo: Mandel Ngan/AFP via Getty Images

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego joined President Biden on Thursday to discuss extreme heat and the administration's plan to combat it.

What's happening: Biden asked the Department of Labor to issue a formal "hazard alert" to "reaffirm that workers have heat-related protections under federal law," according to the White House. The Labor Department will also expand inspections of "high risk" sectors like construction and agriculture.

  • Biden further announced a new data program to improve weather forecasts.

Why it matters: No federal law protects workers specifically from extreme heat.

  • The Biden administration announced in 2021 it would add heat safety rules to the Occupational Safety and Health Act. But those guidelines aren't close to being complete because the federal rulemaking process takes years.

What they're saying: "I want the American people to know help is here and we’re going to make it available to anyone who needs it," Biden said during Thursday's briefing.

Reality check: While the announcement could provide some worker protections, Biden didn't unlock new funds for immediate lifesaving measures in Arizona or elsewhere.

  • Instead, the president encouraged cities to use some of the discretionary funding they have with existing American Rescue Plan Act dollars to fund heat relief.

The big picture: Scientists predict July will be the Earth's hottest month.

  • The record-breaking heat would have been "virtually impossible" in a world without human-driven climate change, according to new data published this week.

Flashback: Gallego has been calling on the federal government to qualify extreme heat as an emergency. In response, U.S. Rep. Ruben Gallego introduced a bill in June that would add heat to FEMA's list of declared emergencies.

  • An emergency declaration would funnel new money and resources to potentially set up emergency homeless shelters and 24-hour cooling centers, Phoenix chief heat officer David Hondula told Axios earlier this month.

Threat level: Heat is the No. 1 weather-related killer in the country.

  • As of July 22, Maricopa County had confirmed 25 heat-associated deaths and the medical examiner is still investigating 249 additional suspected heat deaths.

What they're saying: The mayor said the increased political support and recognition of extreme heat is one "silver lining" in this summer's heatwave.

  • "Because we've seen terrible heat records in parts of the country that don't really struggle with heat, that's really illustrating that this is a national problem, not a local problem," she said.
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