By Corinne Murdock |
The Arizona desert’s classic dry heat should now qualify as an “extreme heat,” according to Democratic lawmakers and leadership.
Rep. Ruben Gallego (D-AZ-03) is lobbying for more federal funding to counter the desert heat. Democrats at all levels have recharacterized summer temperatures as “extreme heat” in an attempt to pull more funding for a variety of progressive initiatives ranging from climate change to social justice. Trending usage of the word “extreme heat” has increased dramatically over the past 20 years, spiking with increased regularity every summer.
In a press release, Gallego commended President Joe Biden for increasing heat-related worker protections on Thursday. As part of the changes, Biden met with Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego, the congressman’s ex-wife, and San Antonio, Texas Mayor Ron Nirenberg. Yet, those changes fell short of Rep. Gallego’s ultimate goal: he urged the Biden administration to go one step further by classifying heat as an emergency.
“Far too many people are dying or falling ill from these extreme temperatures,” said Rep. Gallego. “[M]ore must be done. We need a swift, immediate deployment of resources, and that requires FEMA declaring extreme heat as an emergency. I will continue pushing the administration and Congress to get that done.”
Both Gallegos have worked together to lobby the federal government to declare summer heat as an emergency.
During her annual state of the city address in April, Mayor Gallego petitioned the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to qualify extreme heat as a disaster by adding the regular seasonal occurrence to its national emergency declarations categorization.
A FEMA recognition would bring in more federal funding. The city has a number of heat mitigation projects that would likely benefit from such funding, like the manufactured shade and drinking water access areas known as “cool corridors,” which are determined on an equity basis, and the special sunlight reflective streets known as “cool pavement.” (Which, as AZ Free News reported, actually makes people hotter). Those initiatives were unique creations under Mayor Gallego’s administration.
Mayor Gallego was also responsible for the creation of one of the first heat mitigation offices within city government: the Office of Heat Response and Mitigation (OHRM). The city established the office with $2.8 million in 2021, with the explicit attempt to combat urban heat: the theory that urbanization causes higher temperatures.
Presently, the OHRM doles out COVID-19 relief federal funding provided by the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) for annual heat relief grants. These grants are earmarked for nonprofit, charitable, small business, and faith-based organizations existing within the city-recognized Maricopa Association of Governments Heat Relief Network that claim negative impacts from the COVID-19 pandemic. OHRM will give out a maximum of $450,000 total, with each recipient receiving anywhere from $10,000 to $25,000.
A major focus of the OHRM is providing heat respite for the homeless. The latest update from OHRM, issued last summer, announced initiatives costing millions to increase the comfort of the homeless residing within the infamous mass homeless encampment known as the Zone: the creation of seven new shade structures; distribution of insulated and reusable water bottles, hats, sunscreen, personal misters, towels, ice chests with water; and 475 shelter beds for 24/7 heat respite.
The first and current OHRM director is Arizona State University (ASU) professor David Hondula, who teaches within the Global Institute of Sustainability. ASU worked with the city of Phoenix on the trial run and report ahead of the full launch of the cool pavement program.
After the mayor, Rep. Gallego introduced the Extreme Heat Emergency Act last month. Rep. Gallego said that extreme cold weather warrants federal disaster relief and contended that the same should be the case for the opposite of extreme heat.
“If you’re in Chicago and you have two weeks of extreme cold weather and snow and 400 people die, and Chicago calls the federal government, they will get money from the federal government,” said Gallego.
As AZ Free News reported this week, a majority of heat deaths in Maricopa County last year were due to meth.
Rep. Gallego also introduced similar legislation last year alongside Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-NJ-12). Last year’s version, the Excess Urban Heat Mitigation Act of 2022, would establish a grant program through the Department of Housing and Urban Development. It never made it past introduction.
In this latest announcement from Biden on Thursday, the president directed the Department of Labor (DOL) to issue a Hazard Alert for heat and ramp up workplace heat-safety violation enforcement, allocated $7 million in Inflation Reduction Act (IRA) funding to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) for weather prediction improvements, and allocated $152 million in Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) funding to expand water storage and equity-based climate resilience efforts in California, Colorado, and Washington.
The Biden administration has invested over $50 billion so far to address climate issues like heat waves. They have also established a website providing information on federal funding opportunities to mitigate health risks from heat, the #SummerReady awareness campaign, established the new Office of Climate Change and Health Equity, funded 10 community groups and localities for equitable heat relief, and launched heat mapping campaigns in 154 communities across 14 states.
Earlier this month, the Biden administration announced other heat mitigation initiatives: $5 million to NOAA for two virtual research centers providing technical assistance and information to historically marginalized and underserved communities, a National Heat Strategy focused on equity and environmental justice developed by the White House Interagency Working Group (IWG) on Extreme Heat, meetings with local and tribal leadership to offer federal support for summer heat, and affordable housing opportunities using IRA and BIL funding.