The extreme heat blasting Washington in recent weeks has D.C. Councilwoman Mary Cheh scrambling to help keep the air-conditioning on for residents who are behind on their utility bills.
Cheh has introduced emergency legislation that would prevent power and gas companies from shutting off residents' utilities during extreme heat. The legislation will be considered by the full council on Tuesday and comes on the heels of one of the hottest heat waves to have hit Washington in a decade.
Under Cheh's proposal, Washington Gas and PEPCO would not be allowed to shut off utilities within 24 hours of a National Weather Service temperature prediction of 95 degrees or more. If the hot weather prediction falls on a weekend, power and gas would have to remain on until at least the following Monday. If passed, the emergency heat wave regulations would only be in effect for the remainder of the unusually hot summer.
A spokesman for PEPCO said he could not talk about the proposed legislation until he received official notification. A Washington Gas spokesman declined to comment until after the council votes.
The natural gas provided by Washington Gas is more typically considered a key ingredient for heating a home, rather than cooling. In recent years, however, gas-powered air-conditioning units have come on the market, touted as a more energy efficient means of keeping homes and offices cool in the summer.
A similar, permanent regulation prevents utilities from being cutoff within 24 hours of a forecasted freeze.
But studies show that people are more likely to suffer serious health consequences during periods of extreme heat than during periods of extreme cold.
"As such, it is imperative that the District provide protection for its most vulnerable residents during the upcoming summer months, just as it provides protection during the winter months," Cheh said in her proposal for the legislation.
The council has approved similar emergency legislation in previously hot summers. Councilmembers had an opportunity in 2008 to make the law permanent, but did not.