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June 10th, 2024
Local opinion: Democrats are taking climate action on extreme heat

This week, Tucson experienced its first 100-degree day, signaling the onset of our hottest months. Living in the Sonoran Desert, we’re no strangers to heat, but we must acknowledge that prolonged extreme heat, fueled by climate change, is becoming our new norm.

Last summer, records were shattered in Arizona, Nevada, Texas, and across the Southwest, with temperatures in Phoenix exceeding 110 degrees on 55 days and hitting at least 100 degrees on 133 days. By 2036, summers in the U.S. may see 20 to 30 more days of extreme heat annually.

The burden of climate-change induced heat falls disproportionately on low-income communities, people of color, and those experiencing homelessness. Vulnerable groups such as children, the elderly, and pregnant individuals struggle to regulate their body temperatures, making them especially susceptible to heat-related illnesses. Outdoor workers, unable to escape the heat, face increased risks, with agriculture workers having a 35-times-greater risk of heat-related death.

Last summer’s extreme heat led to thousands of hospitalizations and hundreds of deaths, highlighting the escalating crisis. Heat-induced deaths have been increasing year-over-year across the United States, reaching 2,302 in 2023.

If we fail to invest now in further mitigating climate change, extended heat events will continue to cost the U.S. in the billions of dollars and additional lives. While extreme heat lacks the visibly destructive hallmarks of disasters like floods, hurricanes, and tornadoes, it is more deadly than all three combined. Extreme heat costs an estimated $1 billion in health care costs each summer, a figure that will likely increase as climate change worsens.

High temperatures force low-income families to spend more on cooling, straining already tight budgets. The increased use of air conditioners during heat waves stresses our aging energy grid, posing catastrophic risks.

Despite these dangers and obvious economic burden, Republican lawmakers in Congress continue pretending that nothing is wrong, supporting fossil fuels and obstructing climate action, endangering lives and hindering progress. While we never expected Republicans to lead on this issue, it’s unconscionable that they would attempt to roll back our progress as Americans suffered some of the worst heat in recorded history.

Their refusal to act will incur a cost in human lives.

Fortunately, Democrats have already taken action to protect vulnerable communities from extreme heat and will continue to prioritize the issue.

The Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) provided billions of dollars in grants for extreme heat risk mitigation, resiliency, and adaptation. As part of President Biden’s Justice40 Initiative, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) launched campaigns to map the inequitable distribution of extreme heat across 154 communities. The Infrastructure Law will provide over $2 billion in grants over the next five years for grid modernization to reduce the impacts of extreme weather, including heat.

But decades of Republicans’ blocking action requires a more urgent response.

We need robust funding for the Weatherization Assistance Program (WAP) and the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which help millions of households weatherize their homes and lower their energy bills.

We need to implement resilient energy grid infrastructure that can withstand extreme heat and other climate-related disasters.

We need to pass the Fairness for Farmworkers Act and the Asunción Valdivia Heat Illness and Fatality Prevention Act, which I introduced in Congress, to protect and compensate those who work in dangerous heat.

We must aggressively expand access to solar power to make homes, schools, and other buildings self-sufficient and provide stability during power outages.

And we can afford to make this transition a reality tomorrow if Republicans stop handing out hundreds of billions of dollars in tax subsidies to the fossil fuel industry.

As we face another summer in the era of climate change, my Republican colleagues must either join our efforts or step aside. It’s simply too dangerous to ignore the reality that extreme heat is here to stay.

Published June 2 in the Arizona Daily Star.

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