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

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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.

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Farms with just one or a handful of different crops encourage fewer species of pollinating and pest-controlling insects to linger, ultimately winnowing away crop yields, according to a new study.

Up to half of the detrimental impacts of the "landscape simplification" that monocropping entails come as a result of a diminished mix of ecosystem service-providing insects, a team of scientists reported Oct. 16 in the journal Science Advances.

Monocrop palm oil plantation Honduras.

SHARE Foundation / Flickr / CC BY-NC 2.0​

"Our study shows that biodiversity is essential to ensure the provision of ecosystem services and to maintain a high and stable agricultural production," Matteo Dainese, the study's lead author and a biologist at Eurac Research in Bolzano, Italy, said in a statement.

It stands to reason that, with declines in the sheer numbers of insects that ferry pollen from plant to plant and keep crop-eating pests under control, these services will wane as well. But until now, it hasn't been clear how monocultures affect the number and mix of these species or how crop yields might change as a result.

Aiming to solve these questions, Dainese and his colleagues pulled together data from 89 studies cutting across a variety of landscapes, from the tropics of Asia and Africa to the higher latitudes of northern Europe. They tabulated the number of pollinating and pest-controlling insects at these sites — both the absolute number of individuals and the number of species — along with an assessment of the ecosystem services the insects provided.

In almost all of the studies they looked at, the team found that a more diverse pool of these species translated into more pollination and greater pest control. They also showed that simplified landscapes supported fewer species of service-providing insects, which ultimately led to lower crop yields.

The researchers also looked at a third measure of the makeup of insect populations — what they called "evenness." In natural ecosystems, a handful of dominant species with many more individuals typically live alongside a higher number of rarer species. The team found as landscapes became less diverse, dominant species numbers dwindled and rare species gained ground. This resulting, more equitable mix led to less pollination (though it didn't end up affecting pest control).

"Our study provides strong empirical support for the potential benefits of new pathways to sustainable agriculture that aim to reconcile the protection of biodiversity and the production of food for increasing human populations," Ingolf Steffan-Dewenter, one of the study's authors and an animal ecologist at the University of Würzburg in Germany, said in the statement.

The scientists figure that the richness of pollinator species explains around a third of the harmful impacts of less diverse landscapes, while the richness of pest-controlling species accounts for about half of the same measure. In their view, the results of their research point to the need to protect biodiversity on and around crops in an uncertain future.

"Under future conditions with ongoing global change and more frequent extreme climate events, the value of farmland biodiversity ensuring resilience against environmental disturbances will become even more important," Steffan-Dewenter said.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Mongabay.

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