Governor Gavin Newsom signed a bill into law on Friday that will create an extreme heat warning and ranking system in California.
Assembly Bill 2238, jointly authored by Assemblywoman Luz Rivas (D-North Hollywood) and Assemblyman Eduardo Garcia (D-Coachella), will create a ranking and advance warning system in conjunction wit the Department of Insurance and the Integrated Climate Adaptation and Resiliency Program (ICARP), a wing of the Governor’s Office of Planning and Research (OPR) that focuses on climate change impacts. Such a system will be developed by January 2024 and will also require ICARP to develop a public program around the ranking system and work with local and tribal governments in implementing the system locally, develop guidance in preparing and planning for extreme heat, and recommend adaptation measures.
According to AB 2238, heat wave ranking itself will be based on the projected health impact of the wave, meteorological and weather data, and how long the wave is expected to last. Once fully up, heat wave rankings are planned to be as ubiquitous as current air quality alerts and forest/wildfire danger levels.
Written by Rivas and Garcia to help counter the greater frequency of heat waves and higher temperatures happening across California in recent years, AB 2238 was initially slow moving through both houses despite widespread support from both Democrats and Republicans. In May, it was even moved to the suspense file in part due to the slow progress.
However, a hotter than expected year quickly brought the bill back in the summer. In August, with hot temperatures statewide and a heat wave striking the state, the bill passed the final hurdles, including both a 40-0 Senate vote and a 79-0 Assembly vote on August 31st. With the need for a heart warning and ranking system more apparent, and still in the midst of the heatwave, Newsom then signed the bill into law on Friday.
AB 2238 signed into law
“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,” said Governor Newsom after signing AB 2238 and several other high heat related bills on Friday. “California is taking aggressive action to combat 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 on the line, we cannot afford to delay.”
While numerous heat related bills were signed, many officials and lawmakers specifically pointed out AB 2238 as the main piece of legislation signed on Friday due to the ranking system having proved to have been needed during the summer.
“California has been battling record breaking extreme heat all week. Unfortunately, each summer we are experiencing extreme heat weather events that are hotter and more devastating than the last,” noted Assemblywoman Rivas. “Thank you to Governor Newsom for signing my legislation, AB 2238, that will help save the lives of Californians, and my thanks to Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara for his leadership and dedication in pushing this legislation forward. California will now lead the nation with the first advance warning and ranking system for extreme heat waves.”
Insurance Commissioner Ricardo Lara added, “California is once again leading the world in fighting climate change and its deadly effects. Ranking heat waves will be a powerful new tool to protect all Californians alongside Governor Gavin Newsom’s Extreme Heat Action Plan. I applaud the Governor’s and the bill’s joint authors’ continued leadership on these necessary extreme heat investments and policies that will save lives and close the protection gap for our most at-risk communities as we face more heat waves in the years ahead.”
Many weather experts also noted the need for such a system in California.
“If you look past all the patting of themselves on the back and thanking each other and praising each other, what was signed today is important,” explained Helen Vega, a meteorologist and climate consultant in Southern California, to the Globe on Friday. “Even people who initially said that this was a waste of money finally saw the economic benefits of it, especially stores and locations with a lot of AC units that need to plan around heat waves and higher temperatures. By having the system in place, they can save a lot of money each year by putting ACs at the right level rather than putting it on full blast
“And it really isn’t about climate change. It’s just simply about hotter temperatures and putting out a system to help warn people. There’s a reason why every lawmaker voted for this.”
Governor Newsom is expected to sign more bills into laws in the coming weeks.