Quantcast

Sanders Introduces $146 Billion 'Transformation Blueprint' for Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands

Politics
Sanders surveyed the damage done by Hurricane Maria with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz in October. Cruz approves of the recovery package Sanders unveiled Tuesday. @Politics_Info / Twitter

By Julia Conley

Calling on the federal government to bring its "full resources to bear" on the crisis in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, Sen. Bernie Sanders (Vt.-I) unveiled a $146 billion recovery package for the U.S. territories on Tuesday, two months after Hurricane Maria left destruction across the islands.


Sanders and the Democratic co-sponsors of the new bill argue it is necessary to treat the recovery as the emergency it is, but that rebuilding the islands' battered infrastructure should not mean simply returning to things as they were.

"It is absolutely without any sense at all to rebuild Puerto Rico's antiquated, centralized and inefficient electric grid that was dependent on expensive and dirty imported fossil fuels," Sanders said in a press conference where he introduced the bill, adding that with the nickname "La Isla Del Sol," the island could be leading the way in the use of solar power and other sustainable energy.

"Before the storm Puerto Rico only had two percent of its electricity coming from sustainable energy," remarked Sanders. "Beyond rebuilding damaged facilities, our bill makes a major proactive investment in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands' infrastructure."

The bill—formally called The Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands Equitable Rebuild Act—was referred to as "a Marshall Plan for Puerto Rico" by Ramon Luis Nieves, former lawmaker on the island. It would give $62 billion to the territory to help it pay off its debts, $51 billion for economic development, and $27 billion for infrastructure.

Sanders noted in his press conference with Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.) and other coo-sponsors, that more than two months after Maria made landfall, "half of the people there—American citizens all—still have no electricity, many are still struggling to get clean drinking water and more than 100,000 people have left Puerto Rico."

But despite the dire situation, Trump has requested just $29 billion for Puerto Rico, Florida and Texas combined, to help with the recovery from Hurricanes Harvey and Irma as well as Maria.

San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz, who has been sharply critical of the president's approach to Puerto Rico's recovery, expressed her approval of the bill in a statement:

The bill that Senator Sanders has introduced in the United States Congress is a comprehensive plan that provides the blueprint for the transformation of Puerto Rico. While dealing with all major areas of immediate concern: energy, health and education it also sets the foundation to make Puerto Rico a more equitable, just and fair society for all.

In addition to humanitarian relief and improved infrastructure, Warren stressed the need for full, true debt relief. As President Donald Trump brought up in the days after the storm, Puerto Rico's debt exceeds $70 billion, brought on partially by a lack of tax revenue after Congress repealed a tax break for businesses on the island in 1976. This caused companies to flee and take the economic growth Puerto Rico experienced following World War II with them.

The island fell further into debt as "vulture" hedge funds saw an opportunity to buy up the island's debt, only to sue its government when it defaulted on paying the funds back—forcing Puerto Rico to file for bankruptcy four months before Maria hit. Similar firms swooped in following Hurricane Maria.

"Puerto Rico needs full debt relief," Warren said. "This is critical. The vulture funds that snapped up Puerto Rican debt should not get one cent from the island. Not one cent."

Warren also criticized Trump's callous and insufficient response to the island's crisis, and urged him and Congress to support the bill.

"From the start, President Trump's response to Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands has been too little, too late. I've been telling President Trump, 'Do your job.' Well, this bill is an opportunity for President Trump to step up and do his job."

The senators' press conference was broadcast on Facebook Live:

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Investing in grid infrastructure would enable utilities to incorporate modern technology, making the grid more resilient and flexible. STRATMAN2 / FLICKR

By Elliott Negin

The Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences' recent decision to award the 2019 Nobel Prize in Chemistry to scientists who developed rechargeable lithium-ion batteries reminded the world just how transformative they have been. Without them, we wouldn't have smartphones or electric cars. But it's their potential to store electricity generated by the sun and the wind at their peak that promises to be even more revolutionary, reducing our dependence on fossil fuels and protecting the planet from the worst consequences of climate change.

Read More Show Less
Two Javan rhinos deep in the forests of Ujung Kulon National Park, the species' last habitat on Earth. Sugeng Hendratno / WWF

By Basten Gokkon

The global population of the critically endangered Javan rhinoceros has increased to 72 after four new calves were spotted in the past several months.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
A tiger looks out from its cage at a new resort and zoo in the eastern Lao town of Tha Bak on Dec. 5, 2018. Karl Ammann believes the "zoo" is really a front for selling tigers. Terrence McCoy / The Washington Post / Getty Images

Are tigers extinct in Laos?

That's the conclusion of a detailed new study that found no evidence wild tigers still exist in the country.

Read More Show Less

A group of scientists is warning that livestock production must not expand after 2030 for the world to stave off ecological disaster.

Read More Show Less
The largest wetland in Africa is in the South Sudan. George Steinmetz / Corbis Documentary / Getty Images Plus

Methane emissions are a far more powerful greenhouse gas than carbon dioxide – about 28 times more powerful. And they have been rising steadily since 2007. Now, a new study has pinpointed the African tropics as a hot spot responsible for one-third of the global methane surge, as Newsweek reported.

Read More Show Less