Rep. Watson Coleman Introduces the Stay Cool Act to Better Prepare Communities to Address Heat Emergencies
Washington, D.C. (June 6, 2022) - Congresswoman Bonnie Watson Coleman (NJ-12) has introduced H.R. 7949, the Stay Cool Act, a package of proposals for addressing the increased threat of heat emergencies by improving how we study, react to, and mitigate extreme heat. The Stay Cool Act would be a first-of-its-kind comprehensive bill that studies and addresses rising surface temperatures across the United States in order to provide safer living conditions for all communities.
On May 21, 2022, more than 38 million Americans were under a heat advisory from Texas to Massachusetts. This year the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released its three-month seasonal temperature outlook and predicted above-normal temperatures likely across almost all the lower 48 states this Summer. The temperatures across the country right now are not normal, but they are a continuation of the troubling trends experienced last summer. In early August 2021, over 150 million people across the United States from coast to coast were under some heat alert on the same day.
Heat threatens the lives of children, the elderly, outdoor workers, and others as prolonged exposure leads to unexpected health risks, such as heat cramps, heat stroke, and death, as well as exacerbates pre-existing and chronic illnesses. Research from Duke University estimates an average of 12,000 annual heat-related deaths with other estimates placing the number much higher. As the effect of climate change warms the planet and extreme heat emergencies become more frequent, the United States needs a comprehensive plan to address them.
Unfortunately, the intensity and impact of heat on communities varies, with communities of color and low-income communities at greater risk of experiencing higher temperatures than their white and wealthier counterparts. Larger populations of these communities live in urban areas which are subjected to the urban heat island effect, resulting in surface temperatures well above their suburban counterparts. Moreover, in many of these poor minority communities, residents struggle with significant medical conditions, like heart disease, diabetes, and high blood pressure, which become fatal illnesses in heat waves.
“Extreme heat is killing our communities, and it will continue to worsen with climate change,” said Watson Coleman. “For many Americans, living through unexpected heat emergencies is not simply an inconvenience or nuisance, it is a life-threatening natural disaster - worsened by climate change - that warrants action by the federal government. While we must act to combat the causes of climate change, we cannot ignore the impacts people are already facing. The Stay Cool Act helps us to better understand and address the immediate impacts of extreme heat emergencies. It treats extreme heat with the urgency that it deserves. Extreme heat is already the deadliest weather-related disaster we face and will only get worse as our planet warms. It’s time we took steps to mitigate the impacts of extreme heat to save lives.”
“Extreme heat is the number one weather-related killer in the United States, and it disproportionately impacts communities of low-income and color first and worst", says Sonal Jessel, Director of Policy at WE ACT for Environmental Justice. "It is vital we protect vulnerable people from extreme heat by comprehensively ensuring communities are informed and given adequate safeguards, and we thank Representative Watson Coleman for introducing legislation that does just that.”
"Extreme heat is the deadliest weather-related threat to our country. In order to keep the most vulnerable safe from the impacts of the climate crisis, we urgently need the resources provided by the Stay Cool Act," said Cate Mingoya, National Director of Climate Resilience and Land Use at Groundwork USA.
“It’s no secret that with climate change we’re seeing an increase in extreme temperatures and warmer summers that come earlier each year. Overburdened Black and Brown communities, where due to historic injustices there are less trees and green spaces, suffer more from the intense heat. That’s why the Stay Cool Act is so important,” said Ed Potosnak, Executive Director, New Jersey LCV. “We want to thank Congresswoman Watson Coleman for taking this action to provide critical relief and essential resources to communities that need it the most.”
The Stay Cool Act:
· Creates a national ranking system for extreme heat to communicate to the public the severity and risk and would direct the National Weather Service to study the impact of naming heat waves (as we name tropical storms) on public preparedness and response.
· Creates grant programs for checking on seniors during extreme heat events.
· Directs the CDC to study the impact of heat conditions on morbidity and develop recommendations to better collect information on deaths related to environmental factors.
· Creates grants for Community Resilience Centers and cooling centers in overburdened communities to provide safe, air-conditioned environments during extreme heat events.
· Revises regulations relating to public housing to include air conditioning as a covered utility (as heating is covered currently).
· Directs the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development to submit a report to Congress identifying and setting forth safe residential temperature standards for federally assisted rental dwelling units and to submit a plan to bring these units into compliance.
· Directs the Secretary of Energy to submit a report to Congress on the feasibility of a nationwide air conditioner recycling system and rebate program for more energy efficient home cooling systems.
· Directs relevant agencies to report to Congress on revising State allotment payments under the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Act (LIHEAP).
· Creates a grant program to construct usable public water features such as wading pools, fountains, and misting systems in overburdened communities.
· Creates a grant program to develop and improve high quality green spaces to lower temperatures through increased urban vegetation and a grant program for tree planting in overburdened communities which has been shown to lower temperatures.
The Stay Cool Act is cosponsored by Reps. Earl Blumenauer (OR-03), Lisa Blunt Rochester (DE-At Large), Tony Cardenas (CA-29), Peter DeFazio (OR-04), Doris Matsui (CA-06), Donald Payne, Jr. (NJ-10), Michael F.Q. San Nicolas (Guam-At Large), Jan Schakowsky (IL-09), Rashida Tlaib (MI-13), Eleanor Holmes Norton (D.C.-At Large), Dina Titus (NV-01), Dwight Evans (PA-03), Carolyn Maloney (NY-12), Yvette Clarke (NY-09), and Barbara Lee (CA-13).
The Stay Cool Act has been endorsed by Groundwork USA, the New Jersey League of Conservation Voters, and WE ACT for Environmental Justice.
The Stay Cool Act can be read here.