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Biden rolled out some new measures to respond to extreme heat as temperatures soar

President Biden speaks about the heat wave on July 27, 2023. He announced some new measures to address extreme heat, including more inspections to protect workers.
Mandel Ngan
AFP via Getty Images
President Biden speaks about the heat wave on July 27, 2023. He announced some new measures to address extreme heat, including more inspections to protect workers.

Updated July 27, 2023 at 1:36 PM ET

President Biden on Thursday announced new actions aimed at protecting communities from extreme heat, and meeting with mayors from two cities grappling with high temperatures.

Biden directed the Department of Labor to issue a hazard alert for dangerous conditions in industries like agricultureand construction, where workers face a greater risk of injury and death from extreme heat— and the department plans to boost inspections in those sectors, he said.

"For the farm workers, who have to harvest crop in the dead of night to avoid the high temperatures, or farmers who risk losing everything they planted for the year, or the construction workers, who literally risk their lives working all day in blazing heat, and in some places don't even have the right to take a water break," Biden said. "That's outrageous."

Biden noted some 600 people die from extreme heat each year - "more than from floods, hurricanes and tornadoes in America combined."

"Even those places that are used to extreme heat have never seen as hot as it is now for as long as it's been," he said. "Even those who deny that we're in the midst of a climate crisis can't deny the impact of extreme heat is having on Americans."

The president also highlighted $152 million for water storage and pipelines for drought-stricken communities in western states, and $7 million for improving weather forecasts.

The announcement came on a day when Washington, D.C., is under a heat advisory. Biden was joined in a virtual meeting at the White House by the mayors of Phoenix and San Antonio to discuss the impacts of the extreme weather conditions on their cities.

In Phoenix, temperatures have been over 110 F for 27 days in a row. San Antonio is in the midst of a record-breaking heat index high of 117 F.

Some climate activists said the measures are incremental

Phoenix Mayor Kate Gallego called on Congress to give Biden the ability to declare extreme heat a disaster, which would enable cities like hers to tap into more Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) funding to help with the response.

"We're working to out-innovate climate change, but we need to work together to make sure all of us are on deck to address it," Gallego said. "We need a whole-of-government approach."

Meanwhile, climate activists have urged Biden to use his emergency powers to take bolder measures to restrict fossil fuel production.

"Real relief won't come until Biden confronts the culprit of deadly fossil fuels," said Jean Su, energy justice director at the Center for Biological Diversity, who called the new announcements "incremental."

"Biden has extraordinary powers to protect Americans from more apocalyptic heat, floods and storms by phasing out the oil and gas that are driving these disasters," Su said.

The White House has emphasized Biden's track record on investing in clean energy through last year's Inflation Reduction Act.

"He's taken more action, has been more aggressive on dealing with climate change than any other president," press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters on Wednesday.

"He has an ambitious agenda to deal with climate change, and he's going to move forward with that agenda," she said.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Barbara Sprunt is a producer on NPR's Washington desk, where she reports and produces breaking news and feature political content. She formerly produced the NPR Politics Podcast and got her start in radio at as an intern on NPR's Weekend All Things Considered and Tell Me More with Michel Martin. She is an alumnus of the Paul Miller Reporting Fellowship at the National Press Foundation. She is a graduate of American University in Washington, D.C., and a Pennsylvania native.