Can you remember a summer with more disruption from extreme weather events than this one? Whether we are staying indoors to protect ourselves from wildfire smoke, evacuating to avoid flooding, or losing power thanks to severe heatwaves, much of the country is directly experiencing more frequent and more severe climate change impacts than ever before. The repeated stories in the news this summer have been sobering.
The bad news is that we know these events will continue as climate change accelerates. The good news is that action now can still prevent the worst impacts of climate change from occurring, and much of that action can be accelerated by the landmark Inflation Reduction Act (IRA).
Following the Earth’s third-warmest May on record, this summer has wrought havoc thanks to wildfire smoke originating in the U.S. as well as Canada and Mexico, harvests ruined by drought in the Midwest and flooding in New England, and extreme heat that has caused a surge in emergency room visits and even deaths in southern states. For many, climate change is no longer something we only worry about “for future generations,” it’s something we worry about now, for ourselves, our children, our elderly relatives, and our communities.
For individuals, this is a moment to become familiar with preparedness and resilience resources like those on ready.gov and in the Climate and Health Outlook. The first steps in preparedness can include simple changes such as freezing containers of water to preserve clean water and help keep food cold if the power goes out. If you or a loved one is struggling to access cooling and air filtration equipment or to pay for energy costs, programs like the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program and Medicaid may be able to help. The IRA also provides tax credits and rebates for a range of home improvements including weatherizing windows and doors.
Part of preparedness is understanding upcoming climate-related hazards. You can download apps that will alert you to dangerous conditions such as the AirNow Mobile App for checking air quality information. To better understand the hazards that might affect your area in the coming months, you can subscribe to Office of Climate Change and Health Equity (OCCHE) Alerts to receive the Climate and Health Outlook every month, which will include monthly hazard forecasts for health threats like wildfires, extreme heat, and drought.
For health systems and providers, this is a moment to think seriously about how equipped you are to stay open and serve your community during climate-related disasters and extreme weather events. Many providers are resource-constrained and still struggling to maintain adequate staffing following the COVID-19 pandemic. It can be tempting to think of climate resilience as a luxury, but as we are already seeing, investments in preparedness are key to fulfilling health care’s mission and protecting staff. For example, Greenwich Hospital’s combined heat and power system has allowed them to stay open during storms, even admitting new patients and housing staff during Hurricane Sandy.
Many resilience investments are more affordable than ever before thanks to the IRA. The HHS Office of Climate Change and Health Equity has created a Quickfinder and associated webinar series to help health care organizations navigate the potentially transformative opportunities presented by the IRA’s billions of dollars in grants, loan programs, and tax credits for resilient and renewable infrastructure. The Quickfinder offers examples of health entities that have successfully made resilience and sustainability investments, such as the Kaiser Richmond Medical Center’s solar-powered microgrid.
Microgrids are a great example of how health system climate resilience can be funded by the IRA. Microgrids are self-sufficient energy systems that rely on distributed energy like combined heat and power and solar. Because microgrids do not rely on a central grid, they are more energy efficient and can allow facilities to function as “islands” during power outages. The IRA’s Investment Tax Credit (ITC) for Energy Property can be used for renewable energy projects including microgrid controllers and is available to tax-exempt entities through elective pay, meaning eligible entities can receive the full value of the credit as a direct payment. The payment can be up to 30% of the qualified investment, potentially increasing to 50% if the entity is in a low-income community. The ITC, in conjunction with a recent Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services Categorical Waiver permitting greater use of health care microgrid systems with energy storage for backup power, is an unprecedented opportunity for health organizations to make major resilience investments with guaranteed returns.
This summer has been scary for a lot of us, and dangerous for too many. As you continue to process these events and consider how to protect your family and community, HHS stands with you and will continue working to strengthen our programs and health care systems. The events of the last few months have underscored that we have no time to lose.