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HomeTOP STORIESDozens of Groups Push FEMA to Recognize Extreme Heat as a ‘Major...

Dozens of Groups Push FEMA to Recognize Extreme Heat as a ‘Major Disaster’

The labor and environmental groups are pushing the change so relief funds can be used in more situations.

Dozens of environmental, labor and health care groups banded together on Monday to file a petition to push the Federal Emergency Management Agency to declare extreme heat and wildfire smoke as “major disasters,” like floods and tornadoes.

The petition is a major push to get the federal government to help states and local communities that are straining under the growing costs of climate change.

If accepted, the petition could unlock FEMA funds to help localities prepare for heat waves and wildfire smoke by building cooling centers or installing air filtration systems in schools. The agency could also help during emergencies by paying for water distribution, health screenings for vulnerable people and increased electricity use.

“Major disaster declarations really open up the broadest pockets of funding that FEMA has available,” said Jean Su, a senior attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity, an environmental group, and the lead author of the petition. “State and local governments are severely ill equipped and underfunded to even deal with emergency measures.”

The support of major labor groups like the A.F.L.-CIO and the Service Employees International Union is part of a broader strategy from unions to create protection for the tens of millions of people working outside or without air-conditioning during heat waves. Unions want the Occupational Safety and Health Administration to require employers to protect workers from extreme temperatures. The White House has pushed officials at the Labor Department, which oversees OSHA, to publish a draft heat regulation this summer. But major business and industry groups, like the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are opposed to any new requirements.

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