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

In this picture taken on June 4, an Indian boatman walks amid boats on the dried bed of a lake at Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary, on the eve of World Environment Day. Sam Panthaky / AFP / Getty Images

By Julia Conley

Nearly 50 people died on Saturday in one Indian state as record-breaking heatwaves across the country have caused an increasingly desperate situation.

Read More Show Less
A man carries a poster in New York City during the second annual nationwide March For Science on April 14, 2018. Kena Betancur / Getty Images

By Will J. Grant

In an ideal world, people would look at issues with a clear focus only on the facts. But in the real world, we know that doesn't happen often.

People often look at issues through the prism of their own particular political identity — and have probably always done so.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

YinYang / E+ / Getty Images

In a blow to the Trump administration, the Supreme Court ruled Monday to uphold a Virginia ban on mining uranium, Reuters reported.

Read More Show Less
Ragú Old World Style Traditional is one of three flavors named in a voluntary recall. Mike Mozart / CC BY 2.0

Spaghetti with plastic sauce? That's what you might be eating if you pour one of three flavors of Ragú sauce over your pasta.

Mizkan America, the food company that owns Ragú, announced Saturday that it was voluntarily recalling some Chunky Tomato Garlic & Onion, Old World Style Traditional and Old World Style Meat sauces because they might be contaminated with plastic fragments, The Today Show reported.

Read More Show Less
A butterfly in the National Butterfly Center, a private sanctuary for butterflies in southern Texas, on Jan. 22. Maren Hennemuth / picture alliance / Getty Images

While Trump's border wall has yet to be completed, the threat it poses to pollinators is already felt, according to the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, as reported by Transmission & Distribution World.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
People crossing the Brooklyn Bridge on July 20, 2017 in New York City sought to shield themselves from the sun as the temperature reached 93 degrees. Drew Angerer / Getty Images

by Jordan Davidson

Taking action to stop the mercury from rising is a matter of life and death in the U.S., according to a new study published in the journal Science Advances.

Read More Show Less
Salmon fry before being released just outside San Francisco Bay. Jim Wilson / The New York Times / Redux

By Alisa Opar

For Chinook salmon, the urge to return home and spawn isn't just strong — it's imperative. And for the first time in more than 65 years, at least 23 fish that migrated as juveniles from California's San Joaquin River and into the Pacific Ocean have heeded that call and returned as adults during the annual spring run.

Read More Show Less
AnnaPustynnikova / iStock / Getty Images

By Kerri-Ann Jennings, MS, RD

Shiitake mushrooms are one of the most popular mushrooms worldwide.

Read More Show Less