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.

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebooksNow available in paperback
Sport
Diego Costa, Ross Barkley, Arsene Wenger, Brendan Rodgers, Alan Pardew and Christian Eriksen
footballRodgers is right to be looking over his shoulder, while something must be done about diving
News
i100
Life and Style
gaming
Arts and Entertainment
Carl Barat and Pete Dohrety in an image from the forthcoming Libertines short film
filmsPete Doherty and Carl Barat are busy working on songs for a third album
Arts and Entertainment
films
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Electronic Engineer - Smart Home / IoT Devices

£32500 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Electronic Engineer is requi...

Austen Lloyd: Commercial Solicitor - Leicester

Excellent Package: Austen Lloyd: LEICESTER - SENIOR COMMERCIAL SOLICITOR- An o...

Recruitment Genius: IT Support Engineer - 1st Line

£18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This IT support organisation focuses on ...

Ashdown Group: IT Support Analyst (Windows, Active Directory) - London £26k

£26000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Technical Support Analyst / IT Support Analys...

Day In a Page

In a world of Saudi bullying, right-wing Israeli ministers and the twilight of Obama, Iran is looking like a possible policeman of the Gulf

Iran is shifting from pariah to possible future policeman of the Gulf

Robert Fisk on our crisis with Iran
The young are the new poor: A third of young people pushed into poverty

The young are the new poor

Sharp increase in the number of under-25s living in poverty
Greens on the march: ‘We could be on the edge of something very big’

Greens on the march

‘We could be on the edge of something very big’
Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby - through the stories of his accusers

Revealed: the case against Bill Cosby

Through the stories of his accusers
Why are words like 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?

The Meaning of Mongol

Why are the words 'mongol' and 'mongoloid' still bandied about as insults?
Mau Mau uprising: Kenyans still waiting for justice join class action over Britain's role in the emergency

Kenyans still waiting for justice over Mau Mau uprising

Thousands join class action over Britain's role in the emergency
Isis in Iraq: The trauma of the last six months has overwhelmed the remaining Christians in the country

The last Christians in Iraq

After 2,000 years, a community will try anything – including pretending to convert to Islam – to avoid losing everything, says Patrick Cockburn
Black Friday: Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Helpful discounts for Christmas shoppers, or cynical marketing by desperate retailers?

Britain braced for Black Friday
Bill Cosby's persona goes from America's dad to date-rape drugs

From America's dad to date-rape drugs

Stories of Bill Cosby's alleged sexual assaults may have circulated widely in Hollywood, but they came as a shock to fans, says Rupert Cornwell
Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

Clare Balding: 'Women's sport is kicking off at last'

As fans flock to see England women's Wembley debut against Germany, the TV presenter on an exciting 'sea change'
Oh come, all ye multi-faithful: The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?

Oh come, all ye multi-faithful

The Christmas jumper is in fashion, but should you wear your religion on your sleeve?
Dr Charles Heatley: The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

The GP off to do battle in the war against Ebola

Dr Charles Heatley on joining the NHS volunteers' team bound for Sierra Leone
Flogging vlogging: First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books

Flogging vlogging

First video bloggers conquered YouTube. Now they want us to buy their books
Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show: US channels wage comedy star wars

Saturday Night Live vs The Daily Show

US channels wage comedy star wars
When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine? When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible

When is a wine made in Piedmont not a Piemonte wine?

When EU rules make Italian vineyards invisible