Charlie Crist looks to stem heat-related deaths in ‘catastrophic’ temperature rise

Heat wave
The Preventing HEAT Illness and Deaths Act would formalize an Obama-era interagency program to monitor extreme heat and incentivize community initiatives.

U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist introduced a bill Friday that would formalize a Barack Obama-era interagency program to monitor extreme heat and incentivize community initiatives to reduce the health impact of extreme heat.

The announcement of the Preventing Health Emergencies and Temperature-related (HEAT) Illness and Deaths Act came on the same day the United Nations released a report that said global temperatures will rise to “catastrophic” levels by the end of the century. It also follows the hottest summer on record.

“This summer, the U.S. hit its hottest month ever recorded — and tragically, many died as a result of record-breaking temperatures,” Crist said in a news release. “Frankly, we don’t have time to waste.”

But it wasn’t just the U.S.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, July was the hottest month on record for Earth. And a University of Florida study found that 215 people in Florida died from heat-related illness over the last 10 years.

Those deaths, however, were linked directly to prolonged heat exposure. But Georges C. Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said heat can impact health and cost lives in indirect ways as well. The New York Times reported more than 600 more Americans died during this summer’s heat wave than during the same period in previous years. It also found that 10 of 14 deaths in New Orleans after Hurricane Ida were linked to heat.

“Extreme heat threatens our health, especially the most vulnerable among us, including older adults, young children and outdoor workers,” Benjamin said. “Low-income and underserved communities are especially at risk. Extreme heat often results in increased hospital admissions for heat stroke, heart attacks and respiratory distress. It is also a cause of premature death.”

Crist’s bill would establish and formally authorize the National Integrated Heat Health Information System (NIHHIS). It’s an interagency committee that would coordinate efforts to address extreme heat. The NIHHIS was an Obama-era initiative. By adding the NIHHIS to statute, the committee would be protected from the whims of changing administrations as well as receive clear directives and funding.

Crist said one of the agency’s prime functions would be to “conduct a study on extreme heat and issue recommendations to improve heat-health planning, preparedness, response, resilience, adaptation, and environmental justice and equity.”

It would also create a $100 million financial assistance program to help communities, especially historically marginalized ones, fund projects to mitigate the effects of extreme heat.

“The Preventing HEAT Illness and Deaths Act of 2021 would help to better prepare the nation to address this growing public health threat and provide valuable lifesaving funding to protect our most vulnerable communities from extreme heat,” Benjamin said.

According to the bill, projects like cool roofs, cool pavements, green space, cooling centers, retrofitting buildings, air conditioning, training and education programs, outreach, and projects to improve communication of extreme heat, are among those that could be funded. Though there is also some flexibility by allowing funding for “projects the Director (of the NIHHIS) determines will achieve a significant reduction in heat exposure.”

Oregon Democrat Suzanne Bonamici sponsored the House bill along with Crist. While Sens. Edward J. Markey and Alex Padilla, Democrats from Massachusetts and California respectively, filed a Senate version.

According to a news release from Crist’s office, the Preventing HEAT Illness and Deaths Act is endorsed by the Union of Concerned Scientists; Sierra Club; League of Conservation Voters; Natural Resources Defense Council; Physicians for Social Responsibility; American Public Health Association; Climate Psychiatry Alliance; Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments; American Academy of Pediatrics; Virginia Clinicians for Climate Action; and Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Resilience Center at the Atlantic Council.

Staff Reports


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