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Bonamici, Crist Introduce Legislation to Combat Health Risks of Extreme Heat

September 17, 2021
Press Release

Washington, DC – U.S. Representatives Suzanne Bonamici (D-OR) and Charlie Crist (D-FL) announced introduction of the Preventing Health Emergencies And Temperature-related (HEAT) Illness and Deaths Act, legislation that will strengthen and expand interagency efforts to address extreme heat, provide $100 million in funding for community projects that mitigate heat-related health risks, and issue recommendations for federal action on heat-health issues. Senators Edward J. Markey (D-MA) and Alex Padilla (D-CA) introduced the companion legislation in the U.S. Senate.

Specifically, the Preventing HEAT Illness and Deaths Act would:

  • Establish the National Integrated Heat Health Information System (NIHHIS) Interagency Committee to enhance interagency efforts to address extreme heat.
  • Formally authorize the NIHHIS Program, which was initiated by President Obama in 2015, within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. 
  • Require NIHHIS to conduct a study on extreme heat and issue recommendations to improve heat-health planning, preparedness, response, resilience, adaptation, and environmental justice and equity.
  • Establish a $100 million financial assistance program to provide funding for community projects that reduce the health impacts of extreme heat, prioritizing projects in historically disadvantaged communities and communities with significant heat disparities associated with race or income.

Extreme heat kills more Americans on average than any other weather event. This summer, extreme heat killed over 200 Americans when a record-breaking heat wave moved across the Pacific Northwest. US cities experienced one of their hottest summers to date, with July 2021 being the world's hottest month ever recorded according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.  And recent reports on Hurricane Ida indicate that extreme heat in the aftermath of the storm is responsible for 10 of the 14 reported deaths in New Orleans.

"Oregon faced multiple extreme heat emergencies this year, and we continue to mourn the lives that were lost,” said Congresswoman Suzanne Bonamici. “Heat-related deaths are more likely to endanger lower-income communities and communities of color. These fatalities are preventable, and we must take action now to protect workers, seniors, and marginalized groups who are at risk as these climate-change induced, extreme weather emergencies become more frequent. I’m pleased to join Rep. Crist in introducing the Preventing HEAT Illness and Deaths Act to make our communities safer.”

“This summer, the US hit its hottest month ever recorded – and tragically many died as a result of record-breaking temperatures,” said Rep Crist. “Frankly, we don’t have time to waste. That’s why I’m proud to introduce the Preventing HEAT Illness and Deaths Act - legislation that will strengthen federal efforts to address extreme heat, help cities mitigate the impacts, and most importantly, save lives.”

“This summer, fueled by the human-caused climate crisis, our country has experienced unprecedented extreme heat events that have killed hundreds of Americans and sent many more to the hospital. Resulting in part from the practice of historic redlining, the risks of this extreme heat have fallen disproportionately on low-income communities and communities of color who have less tree cover and more pavement,” said Senator Markey. “This national problem requires a national response. That is why I am introducing the Preventing HEAT Illness and Deaths Act to establish an interagency committee to oversee and amplify federal efforts to address extreme heat and provide financial assistance to communities to reduce their exposure to extreme heat.”

“Heat is among the top weather-related causes of death in the United States and is poised to become an increasingly bigger threat as global warming unfolds. And yet, injuries and deaths resulting from exposure to extreme heat, while tragic, are often preventable,” said Rachel Licker, Senior Climate Scientist, Climate & Energy Program, Union of Concerned Scientists. “The Preventing HEAT Illness and Deaths Act of 2021 is a critical and timely piece of legislation that would ensure that the United States is better prepared in the face of extreme heat, and better able to protect those communities who are disproportionately vulnerable to its effects.”

“Extreme heat threatens our health, especially the most vulnerable among us including older adults, young children and outdoor workers. 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,” said Georges C. Benjamin, MD, Executive Director of the American Public Health Association. “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.”

“This summer’s deadly heat has been a tragic reminder that the U.S. is not prepared for a future of even stronger, longer, and more frequent heat disasters fueled by climate change,” said Kim Knowlton, Senior Scientist, Natural Resources Defense Council and Assistant Professor, Environmental Health Sciences, Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health. “The Preventing HEAT Illness and Deaths Act of 2021 will help the nation cope with rising temperatures by providing critical information and directing resilience funding to communities that need it most.”

“We at the Arsht-Rock Resilience Center applaud Representative Crist for his leadership on extreme heat, the invisible killer,” said Kathy Baughman McLeod, Executive Director, Adrienne Arsht-Rockefeller Foundation Resilience Center. “As the frequency, intensity, duration, and breadth of heat waves explodes across the country this summer, every moment we hesitate, more people die.  This bill is the best next step to protect the lives and livelihoods of all Americans, especially the most vulnerable from this climate threat.”  

The Preventing Health Emergencies And Temperature-related (HEAT) Illness and Deaths Act has been endorsed by: 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.

A PDF of the bill can be found here.