WGN9 Chicago | Julie Unruh Chicago experienced the deadliest natural disaster in its history 25 years ago this month when 739 people died in a heat wave. Now the city is facing over 2,500 deaths and counting during another major health crisis: the coronavirus pandemic. The causes are different, but in both cases the elderly and minorities are the hardest-hit. But why? Dr. Linda Rae Murray practiced medicine at a Cabrini Green health clinic in the ‘90’s, and is now sheltering in place during the pandemic. She says the similarities between them are undeniable, and it all comes down to race and the inequities that stem from it. “It’s the result of the structural condition, the racism that’s baked into our country,” Murray said. The 71-year-old retired former Chief Medical Officer for the Cook County Department of Public Health said her great frustration is that the city, county and state continue to ignore the needs of our poorest neighborhoods. During those 25 years in-between the two crises, Murray says not enough changed in Chicago, and the virus highlights the deep problems that exist when it comes to health care, housing, jobs and education for minority communities. […] According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, minorities are 4-5 times more likely to be hospitalized for COVID-19. The agency attributes the disparity to long-standing systemic health and social inequities putting them at increased risk of getting the virus or experiencing severe illness regardless of age. Death rates also tend to be higher during public health emergencies generally, whether that’s a hurricane, a heat wave or even a global pandemic.
The Guardian | Miranda Bryant More than 20 locations across the US were expected to either break or tie previous high temperature records on Sunday as the south of the country bakes in a heatwave. The National Weather Service had numerous excessive heat warnings in place across a 2,000 mile swath stretching from southern California through to Mobile Bay in Alabama. Potentially record-breaking temperatures are expected in southern California, Arizona, New Mexico and west Texas. Many of the impacted areas are also experiencing issues with surging coronavirus cases, and some experts and officials are anxious heat could increase infections if people shelter indoors, or in areas with less ventilation. Lara Pagano, a meteorologist at the Weather Prediction Centre, said there are 23 locations that they expect there to be “records tied or broken today”. The heatwave, which started on Saturday, is expected to peak in most places on Sunday but go on in Texas until Tuesday. In Phoenix, Arizona, records are predicted to reach 116F (46.6C) – which would break the previous record of 115F set in 2009. In California, Palm Springs is expected to reach 119F, nearing a record set in 1985 of 120F. In Texas, temperatures are expected to exceed 100F in San Antonio and Dallas.
E&E News | Nick Sobczyk Two separate House panels will hold environmental justice hearings tomorrow, as lawmakers moved to put a spotlight on civil rights after the killing of George Floyd and subsequent nationwide protests. The Science, Space and Technology Committee will examine the links between extreme heat and environmental justice and how it ties into the COVID-19 pandemic. Democrats have sought to link the pandemic to environmental justice issues repeatedly in recent weeks amid data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that shows systemic inequities are affecting hospitalization rates for the pandemic. Indigenous people and Black Americans are currently hospitalized for COVID-19 at five times the rate of white people. Hispanics and Latinos have a hospitalization rate roughly four times higher. […] Research has also found that communities of color and with low incomes are often more exposed to extreme heat, particularly in inner cities with little tree cover. […] Meanwhile, the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Energy and Mineral Resources will hold a separate hearing the same afternoon focusing on how fossil fuel infrastructure impacts environmental justice communities. Environmental justice groups have long said that their communities are disproportionately exposed to pollution from burning fossil fuels, and preliminary research from Harvard University scientists has linked exposure to soot to higher death rates from COVID-19. […] The Natural Resources subcommittee hearing is Tuesday, July 14, at 1 p.m. via webcast. The Science, Space and Technology Committee hearing is Tuesday, July 14, at 2 p.m. via webcast.
E&E News | Anne C. Mulkern The threat of chronic blackouts is sparking a rush to install battery backup systems as California homeowners try to avoid disruptive power cuts related to wildfires. Blackouts are increasingly a part of life as Pacific Gas and Electric Co. strives to avoid igniting deadly blazes with aging equipment. At fault for some of the state’s worst wildfires, the utility shut off power nine times between June and October last year in Northern California. Some blackouts lasted for days, and at least one affected more than a million people. The utility plans to use shut-offs for years as it upgrades its system. It’s pledged to reduce their scope and restore power more quickly. But many residents aren’t reassured. Nitsa Lallas and husband Ignacio Arribas, who live in the San Francisco suburb of Mill Valley, are getting two Tesla Powerwalls installed this week to store power from the solar panels on their 2,600-square-foot house. “The primary trigger for us was when it became clear that these power shut-offs were part of the plan for the foreseeable future,” Lallas said. “PG&E was telling customers to expect them. … It appeared to us that every fire season, we would have multiple shut-offs, and that that would happen for multiple years.” They’re not alone. Permit applications for energy storage projects are surging, according to local officials. In Sonoma County, about 80 miles north of San Francisco, 174 permits were issued in the first half of this year. That eclipsed the 161 permits that were approved in all of 2019. Interest has boomed with advancing storage technology and since it became clear that blackouts will persist. The county issued 76 permits in 2018, and 47 in 2017, said Domenica Giovannini, policy manager for Sonoma County. Marin County, just north of San Francisco, issued 763 “solar” permits in the year ending on June 30. Those permits are needed for various types of energy projects that would help homeowners keep the lights on during outages, including storage systems and a number of solar technologies. It marked a 136% increase compared with the previous year, said Bill Kelley, the county’s deputy director of building inspection and safety. The county didn’t break out how many of those permits included storage, but “our sense is that most rooftop PV installations (which is more than 99% of our solar permits) now include an integrated energy storage system,” Kelley said in an email.