Opinion | 19 states ban utility shutoffs during heat waves. More should follow.

It’s too darn hot in much of the United States. Nearly 50 million people are living in a “heat dome” where the temperature has been topping 100 degrees. Heat advisories and warnings are in effect across Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, Nevada and Southern California. But here’s what compounds the misery for those who cannot pay their soaring utility bills: Only three states in that group prevent shut-offs during heat waves. So, as temperatures soar to levels anyone would agree are extreme, some Americans are likely to lose their ability to run their fans and air conditioning.

Across the country, 19 states (and D.C.) ban utilities from cutting off service to their customers during excessive heat waves. Rules vary by state, but most prevent shut-offs above 95 degrees or when there is a heat advisory in effect in a county. Every state should have a rule like this, including, in our region, Virginia.

Excessive heat waves are becoming the norm. The beginning of July marked the hottest week on record for the planet. Even places that once rarely faced blazing temperatures, such as the Pacific Northwest, are grappling with heat and seeing frenzied buying of air conditioners and backup generators. But low-income families aren’t able to install costly systems.

Most new homes are built with central air, and trees are planted to provide shade. Over time, the goal should be to retrofit and upgrade older ones with more efficient utilities, and some funding to do so was included in the Inflation Reduction Act. Until those renovations can be made, it’s important to prevent utility shut-offs.

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More than 40 states prevent utility shut-offs in the winter. The same logic should apply in the summer. An average of 702 Americans die each year from heat-related causes, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Thousands more are hospitalized from heat-related problems.

This is not a red state vs. blue state issue; it’s about common sense and basic decency. As the heat sets in this week, shut-offs are prevented in Georgia and Texas while there is a heat advisory in place.

Arizona enacted its law preventing shut-offs when the temperature rises above 95 degrees following the September 2018 death of a 72-year-old Phoenix woman after her power was cut off and temperatures soared over 105 degrees. She owed $176.84 and had just made a $125 payment. A medical examiner said she died from “environmental heat exposure in setting of significant cardiovascular disease.” Washington state passed its law this year after a heat wave in 2021 took 157 lives.

Summer shut-off moratoriums typically last only a few days. But they help prevent such tragedies, and they afford people time to work with their utility provider to obtain financial assistance and set up a payment plan. It should not take more deaths to trigger basic lifesaving protections.

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Editorials represent the views of The Post as an institution, as determined through debate among members of the Editorial Board, based in the Opinions section and separate from the newsroom.

Members of the Editorial Board and areas of focus: Opinion Editor David Shipley; Deputy Opinion Editor Karen Tumulty; Associate Opinion Editor Stephen Stromberg (national politics and policy); Lee Hockstader (European affairs, based in Paris); David E. Hoffman (global public health); James Hohmann (domestic policy and electoral politics, including the White House, Congress and governors); Charles Lane (foreign affairs, national security, international economics); Heather Long (economics); Associate Editor Ruth Marcus; Mili Mitra (public policy solutions and audience development); Keith B. Richburg (foreign affairs); and Molly Roberts (technology and society).

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