As much of the West continued to sink in a record-breaking heat wave, Governor Gavin Newsom on Friday signed a package of legislation to protect Californians from extreme heat, including establishing a statewide warning system by 2025 and conducting an investigation into the effects of blistering temperatures on workers.
Although the National Weather Service provides heat advisories to warn Americans about precautions to take when temperatures rise, California’s warning system will be the first of its kind in the nation, modeled after similar warnings for wildfires and hurricanes. Under Assembly Bill 2238, the California Environmental Protection Agency will create a system to rank heat events, including severity and health risks, to help local governments take action to protect the vulnerable.
“This week’s unprecedented heat wave is a painful reminder of the costs and impacts of climate change — and it won’t be the last,” Newsom said in a statement Friday. “California is taking aggressive action to fight the climate crisis and build resilience in our most vulnerable communities, including a comprehensive strategy to protect Californians from extreme heat. With lives and livelihoods at stake, we cannot afford to delay.”
The actions come amid the most severe and widespread heat wave to hit California this year. Scorching temperatures along the coast and center section triggered warnings of advancing power outages as the state’s electrical grid struggled to keep up with rising demand. The extreme heat also exacerbated a series of fast-moving wildfires, including an explosive fire near Hemet that forced the evacuation of more than 20,000 people and caused at least two deaths.
Newsom declared a state of emergency to increase energy supplies and prevent blackouts — blackouts that would have threatened the well-being of Californians unable to avoid the extreme heat.
On Friday, Newsom also signed into law Assembly Bill 1643, which creates an advisory committee on the effects of extreme heat on California’s workers, businesses and economy, and Assembly Bill 2420, which requires state health officials to make recommendations against pregnant women. protect female workers outdoors and assess the effects of extreme heat on perinatal health.
Under Senate Act 852, which the governor also signed, cities and counties will be able to create “climate resilience districts” with tax authorities to deal with heatwaves, drought, wildfires and the effects of climate change.
Joe Árvai, director of USC’s Wrigley Institute for Environmental Studies, said the bills are “welcome news” for Californians as heat remains a deadly problem.
“This policy is going to save people’s lives,” Árvai said. “To see a state like California emerge when it comes to this kind of legislation sends a really important signal to people across the country and around the world.”
Extreme heat is one of the deadliest effects of climate change, experts say, and heat waves are increasing in frequency. A Times study published last year revealed that California has failed to track the number of people who have died from extreme heat and has largely failed to provide adequate resources to communities most at risk.
In April, the Newsom administration released an extreme heat action plan designed to protect Californians. Recommendations included making school playgrounds greener; expanding the number of cooling centers; better coordination and targeting of public messages, especially for disadvantaged communities; and planting more trees in urban areas that lack shade.
Gina Solomon, director of the Public Health Institute’s Achieving Resilient Communities project, said the current heat wave is a clear example of the need for policies that address the effects of extreme temperatures. She said “much more can and should be done” to deal with the heat in the future.
“It’s what we’re going to see in the future — longer and stronger heat waves — and not just in the traditional summer months, but in the spring and fall,” she said. “We have to respond to that and some of those changes will have to happen through laws and regulations.”