DETROIT – Today, Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib (MI-12), Congresswoman Cori Bush (MO-01), and Congressman Jamaal Bowman (NY-16) led 22 of their colleagues in a letter to House leadership urging immediate legislative action to respond to deadly heat waves that continue to sweep the country.
“We write with deep concern about the impacts of this summer’s relentless heat wave that endangers the lives of millions of people across our country without access to electricity, water, and other basic utility services. We have a duty to take decisive action that achieves both short-term relief and addresses systemic causes of the climate emergency fueling the heat waves. For this reason, we urge Congress to pass an emergency relief package that(1) implements a nationwide, heat-based moratorium on the shutoffs of electricity, water and other utilities, and provide increased funding for low-income household assistance, and (2) establishes cooling centers and drinking water facilities for at-risk populations and workers,” wrote the members.
The extreme heat emergency ravaging the country has resulted in widespread public health impacts, from heat stroke to respiratory distress and even death. Recently, a farmworker and father of two young children died after working several days in over 110-degree weather. This same extreme heat killed 10 people in Laredo, Texas weeks earlier because they could not cool their homes. The danger of extreme heat cannot be overstated; in the past 30 years, heat exposure has killed more people in the U.S. than any other weather-related event, including floods, cold weather, and hurricanes combined.
“Alarmingly, these heat waves disproportionately harm people without homes; low-income households; disabled individuals; and Black, Brown, Indigenous, and other marginalized communities. The legacy of racist redlining has not only concentrated these groups in housing that is costlier to cool and provide water to, due to leakier plumbing and outdated fixtures, but redlining has also deprived these neighborhoods of tree cover, green space, public water fountains, and other public sources of relief from extreme heat. These communities are more likely to suffer from elevated levels of illness that extreme heat and dehydration can exacerbate, like heart and respiratory diseases,” the members continued.
The lawmakers urged Speaker McCarthy and Leader Jeffries to implement a number of life-saving short-term measures, including:
- Pass a robust nationwide moratorium on electricity, water, and broadband shutoffs during months of extreme heat, reinstate disconnected services, waive late-payment fees, forgive all utility debt for low-wealth households, and increase funding for the Low-Income Household Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) and the Low-Income Household Water Assistance Program (LIHWAP).
- Establish accessible cooling centers and expand drinking water refill stations or public drinking water fountains for at-risk populations, especially unhoused populations, laborers (including farmworkers, construction workers, and delivery and postal workers), migrants, the elderly, and low-wealth communities.
The members also called for systemic action to address climate change and utility insecurity: “Congress must tackle the systemic reasons driving these extreme climate-driven weather events and utility injustice: (1) phase out fossil fuels, the driver of the climate emergency; (2) permanently ban utility shutoffs year-round; and (3) fund distributed renewable energy systems and climate-resilient, affordable public water systems,” the members wrote.
The letter was signed by Representatives Jasmine Crockett, Veronica Escobar, Jimmy Gomez, Raúl Grijalva, Jared Huffman, Hank Johnson, Ro Khanna, Barbara Lee, Summer Lee, James McGovern, Kevin Mullin, Jerrold Nadler, Eleanor Holmes Norton, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Mark Pocan, Ayanna Pressley, Delia Ramirez, Jamie Raskin, Jan Schakowsky, Adam Schiff, Shri Thanedar, and Nydia Velázquez.
The letter was also supported by more than 140 grassroots organizations across the country, including Center for Biological Diversity, NAACP, Public Citizen, Food & Water Watch, WE ACT for Environmental Justice, 350.org, Climate Hawks Vote, Climate Justice Alliance, Union of Concerned Scientists, Corporate Accountability, National Homelessness Law Center, For Love of Water (FLOW), GreenLatinos, Green Workers Alliance, Free Press Action, Interfaith Power & Light, Michigan Environmental Justice Coalition, Oil Change International, Oxfam America, Zero Hour, PODER, Blacks in Green, Energy Equity Project, Nuclear Information and Resource Service, and Media Alliance.
“Hundreds of deaths from this summer’s unrelenting heat prove that access to electricity and other utilities is a matter of life or death,” said Gaby Sarri-Tobar, an energy justice campaigner at the Center for Biological Diversity. “Congress needs to pass a relief package that protects the most vulnerable people from the intensifying climate emergency and stops utilities from cutting lifesaving power to families when they need it most. It’s a brutal practice and it has to end. To get to the root of this crisis, our elected officials have to transform the fossil-fueled, profit-driven utility system to one that’s powered by resilient, just and affordable renewable energy.”
“No one should be denied access to water, especially not during deadly heat waves,” said Mary Grant, the Public Water For All Campaign Director at Food & Water Watch. “We applaud Reps. Tlaib, Bush, and Bowman for leading this letter and demanding strong action to protect people’s basic rights to utilities during the extreme heat. Congressional leadership must act immediately to adopt these lifesaving measures by stopping all utility shutoffs and expanding access to emergency cooling stations and public water fountains and refill stations. More, Congress must address the climate emergency head-on by stopping fossil fuel extraction and creating a permanent source of federal funding to build safe, climate-resilient, affordable publicly owned water infrastructure.”
A full list of organizational statements of support can be found here.
The full text of the letter can be found here.