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NW Heat Wave Exposes Inequities, Need to Prioritize Low-Income Communities

Last month’s deadly heat wave in the Northwest underscored the need to reduce carbon emissions, but advocates want to ensure low-income communities aren’t left behind.

Eric Tegethoff

Rose Lathrop, program director for Sustainable Connections, based in Bellingham, said electrifying buildings is key, since they are the fastest-growing source of carbon pollution in Washington state.

“That’s up 50% from 1990, and that’s due to gas and oil appliances like furnaces, hot-water heaters and stoves,” Lathrop outlined. “So the more of this infrastructure that we place inside of homes, the more likely we’re going to see internal gas leaks.”

Lathrop noted appliances like gas stoves also negatively affect indoor air quality, which is an even greater concern during heat waves when people need to spend more time inside. A recent study found communities of color are disproportionately exposed to heat in cities across the country.

She added replacing gas infrastructure is difficult in older residential buildings, and will become a growing issue for low-income communities.

“How do we electrify those in a way that doesn’t harm our low-income communities, and in fact should support them and help them through a positive transition?” Lathrop asked. “And at the end of the day, it’s going to take funding.”

Lathrop pointed out local governments and Washington state are moving to reduce pollution from buildings, but believes policy without funding will not be effective. She argued the transition away from the use of fuels such as natural gas in buildings needs to be underway now.

“All of our new construction should already be zero-carbon construction,” Lathrop asserted. “It’s easy enough to do. We have the technology, and we have the capacity to do it.”

The above article was provided by Washington News Service. The Auburn Examiner has not independently verified its content. 

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