WASHINGTON — On Friday, more than 170 social-justice, environmental, faith, health and labor groups urged key policymakers to implement lifesaving bans on utility disconnections, ramp up renewable energy and resilient water systems, and phase out fossil fuels — the root cause of this summer’s extreme heat. The groups say President Biden’s Thursday announcement of limited measures to help communities survive deadly, record-shattering heat ignores the urgent short- and long-term solutions needed to address the climate emergency.
The letters call for federal, state and local emergency measures, including a national moratorium on utility shutoffs and expanded cooling centers and hydration stations for at-risk groups like workers, the unhoused, and low-income communities.
The groups also urge systemic solutions to the heat crisis. The letters call on Congress to phase out fossil fuels, the greatest driver of the climate emergency and more frequent extreme heat. They also called for more investment in distributed renewable energy systems like rooftop and community solar, and climate-resilient, affordable public water systems.
“The heat in Texas has been unbearable. We are seeing heat strokes, illness and even death in vulnerable communities,” said Alexia Leclercq, policy director of PODER. “We urgently need increased access to cooling centers, water and a utility shutoff moratorium to ensure those who can't afford utilities still have access to air conditioning to survive. And as we continue to see and experience the damage from climate change, the United States needs to transition toward renewable and equitable energy systems.”
“The unfortunate reality is, millions of Americans, particularly Black Americans, continue to shoulder the burden of a climate disaster they did not create,” said Abre’ Conner, director of environmental and climate justice with the NAACP. “This is especially apparent with the recent rise in extreme weather patterns and subsequently high utility bills. Our so-called leaders’ continued inaction, coupled with decades of infrastructural neglect, have left Black Americans in crisis. At a time when cooling and utilities are most critical to combat heat, we cannot expect those who have been excluded from policy-making decisions to pay for the outcomes. Now is the time for states and policymakers to prioritize climate justice.”
“Workers are dying, and our oceans are practically boiling, so there’s no time for incremental steps to beat the climate emergency,” said Gaby Sarri-Tobar, energy justice campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Congress and states must stop the immediate suffering by halting utility shutoffs and building cooling and water centers. But the only way to slow the heat waves is to stop burning oil, gas and coal, the culprits in the climate emergency.”
“Arizona’s record-breaking heat is a public health emergency and a climate emergency that demands urgent action from our elected leaders,” said Will Humble, director of the Arizona Public Health Association. “People are dying here, and the longer we delay building out renewable energy and phasing out fossil fuels the more people will suffer. This will only get worse until we stop burning oil, gas and coal.”
“Denying water is the politics of cruelty,” said Mary Grant, the Public Water for All campaign director at Food & Water Watch. “In the midst of this extreme climate change-driven heat wave, utility shutoffs are simply wrong. Our nation’s water affordability crisis is deepening as households struggle with rising prices of all the basics, but House Republicans have proposed unprecedented cuts to federal water funding. All levels of government must immediately implement a life-saving moratorium on utility shutoffs, and Congress must invest in a future where every community has safe, affordable, climate-resilient, publicly controlled water.”
“It’s really simple: Disconnecting people from lifesaving utilities is wrong.” said Heather Franklin, internet campaign director at Free Press Action. “During a heat wave like the one that’s setting high-temperature records this month, ensuring that all of our neighbors have a cool home, water to stay hydrated, and the ability to stay connected to up-to-date information is nonnegotiable. Our elected officials must act with the urgency this moment requires to keep everyone in our communities safe and healthy.”
On Thursday, President Biden announced actions responding to the deadly heat waves. They included issuing a hazard alert to inform employers that workers have heat-related protections, investment in improving the nation’s weather forecasts and planting more trees. None of the actions addressed the immediate crisis of utility shutoffs or the burning of fossil fuels, which is the systemic cause of climate change and the extreme heat.
From 2020 to 2022, electric utilities disconnected households more than 5.7 million times. A 2022 study found that an estimated one in 10 U.S. households has unaffordable water bills, with water burdens disparately high for low-income and Black households. Nearly 1 out of 5 households lacks a home internet connection, with low-income households being disproportionately disconnected.