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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksAn introduction to the ground rules of British democracy
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
SPONSORED FEATURES
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Interactive / Mobile Developer

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: PHP Developer - Midweight

£40000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Junior Front End Developer

£20000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Recruitment Genius: Front End Developer - Midweight / Senior

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This digital production agency ...

Day In a Page

Giants Club: After wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, Uganda’s giants flourish once again

Uganda's giants are flourishing once again

After the wholesale butchery of Idi Amin's regime, elephant populations are finally recovering
The London: After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

After 350 years, the riddle of Britain's exploding fleet is finally solved

Archaeologists will recover a crucial item from the wreck of the London which could help shed more light on what happened in the vessel's final seconds
Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

Airbus has patented a jet that could fly from London to New York in one hour

The invention involves turbojets and ramjets - a type of jet engine - and a rocket motor
Tate Sensorium: New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art

Tate Sensorium

New exhibition at Tate Britain invites art lovers to taste, smell and hear art
10 best sun creams for kids

10 best sun creams for kids

Protect delicate and sensitive skin with products specially formulated for little ones
Ashes 2015: Nice guy Steven Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

Nice guy Finn is making up for lost time – and quickly

He was man-of-the-match in the third Test following his recall to the England side
Ashes 2015: Remember Ashton Agar? The No 11 that nearly toppled England

Remember Ashton Agar?

The No 11 that nearly toppled England
Turkey-Kurdish conflict: Obama's deal with Ankara is a betrayal of Syrian Kurds and may not even weaken Isis

US betrayal of old ally brings limited reward

Since the accord, the Turks have only waged war on Kurds while no US bomber has used Incirlik airbase, says Patrick Cockburn
VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but doubts linger over security

'A gift from Egypt to the rest of the world'

VIPs gather for opening of second Suez Canal - but is it really needed?
Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Jeremy Corbyn dresses abysmally. That's a great thing because it's genuine

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, applauds a man who clearly has more important things on his mind
The male menopause and intimations of mortality

Aches, pains and an inkling of mortality

So the male menopause is real, they say, but what would the Victorians, 'old' at 30, think of that, asks DJ Taylor
Man Booker Prize 2015: Anna Smaill - How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?

'How can I possibly be on the list with these writers I have idolised?'

Man Booker Prize nominee Anna Smaill on the rise of Kiwi lit
Bettany Hughes interview: The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems

Bettany Hughes interview

The historian on how Socrates would have solved Greece's problems
Art of the state: Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China

Art of the state

Pyongyang propaganda posters to be exhibited in China
Mildreds and Vanilla Black have given vegetarian food a makeover in new cookbooks

Vegetarian food gets a makeover

Long-time vegetarian Holly Williams tries to recreate some of the inventive recipes in Mildreds and Vanilla Black's new cookbooks