US heatwave kills 50 and threatens eastern harvest

A SUSTAINED heat wave across much of the central and eastern United States has claimed more than 50 lives in the last 10 days and is threatening crop harvests the length of the eastern seaboard. Fields are parched, reservoirs low and the usually verdant Washington lawns are brown. Water restrictions are in force in many counties.

While local officials dispense advice about how the elderly and poor can try to keep cool and some districts open refuges in empty schools, the air-conditioned middle classes suddenly find themselves vulnerable, too.

Power companies are reducing the voltage, pleading with consumers to turn down coolers, and warning that the grid is becoming dangerously overloaded. As a result, the temperature is rising fast in the political arena as well and "energy deregulation", so long a background issue, is flaring up again.

The first harbinger of trouble was an 18-hour power cut three weeks ago in Upper Manhattan. Rich and poor alike found themselves without cool or light. Columbia University lost priceless laboratory experiments. Although he was not directly at fault, the outage was seen as a rare black mark against Mayor Rudolph Giuliani for administrative efficiency.

The Manhattan power cut has not been repeated, but neighbouring New Jersey has been subject to "rolling" power cuts. And the more that is known about these north-eastern power outages, the less they seem to derive from abnormal temperatures.

The preliminary inquest on the Manhattan cut showed that power cables in that part of the grid have been the least reliable in the Consolidated Edison company's system for years. It also showed that the surplus capacity the company is supposed to maintain for just such eventualities had been whittled down far below the required level.

From across the country came similar reports of repairs not made, of old, coal-burning power stations being put back into service - additional air pollution notwithstanding - of a generating capacity that has actually declined in the last five years in the face of growing demand. The reason? The impending deregulation of the energy industry across the US.

Across America the big political divide is not whether energy should be deregulated, but how. Until the "rules of the road" are finalised and legislated, says Dan Lashof of the watchdog Natural Resources Defence Council, power companies will be unwilling to invest in new plant. Investors want to know where the best tax breaks will be before committing their money; and existing power companies want to shape the new structures. Meanwhile the bills wind their tortuous way through Congressional committees.

So long as White House air conditioners continue to whirr, President Clinton - who would like deregulation to be an accomplishment of his second term - can afford to sit back and let the political temperature rise. His adviser on deregulation, Richard Glick, said this week almost cheerfully: "We're going to see a couple of tough summers." The hope seems to be that the worse things get, the more pressure will mount on Congress to legislate.

peoplePaper attempts to defend itself
voicesWe desperately need men to be feminists too
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
British actor Idris Elba is also a DJ and rapper who played Ibiza last summer
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Account Executive/Sales Consultant – Permanent – Hertfordshire - £16-£20k

£16500 - £20000 Per Annum: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: We are currently r...

KS2 PPA Teacher needed (Mat Cover)- Worthing!

£100 - £125 per day: Randstad Education Crawley: KS2 PPA Teacher currently nee...

IT Systems Manager

£40000 - £45000 per annum + pension, healthcare,25 days: Ashdown Group: An est...

IT Application Support Engineer - Immediate Start

£28000 per annum: Ashdown Group: IT Software Application Support Analyst - Imm...

Day In a Page

Secret politics of the weekly shop

The politics of the weekly shop

New app reveals political leanings of food companies
Beam me up, Scottie!

Beam me up, Scottie!

Celebrity Trekkies from Alex Salmond to Barack Obama
Beware Wet Paint: The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition

Beware Wet Paint

The ICA's latest ambitious exhibition
Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Pink Floyd have produced some of rock's greatest ever album covers

Can 'The Endless River' carry on the tradition?
Sanctuary for the suicidal

Sanctuary for the suicidal

One mother's story of how London charity Maytree helped her son with his depression
A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits