Sanders Submits $146B Plan for Puerto Rico
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vermont) unveiled a plan last week to rebuild Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands more than two months after the territories were battered by Hurricane Maria.
What Will it Do?
The $146 billion Puerto Rico and U.S. Virgin Islands Equitable Rebuild Act of 2017 emphasizes “local control and sustainable rebuilding of the territories,” a press release from Sanders’ office states.
However, in addition to helping thousands rebuild their homes, there is also focus on the territories’ debt and other facets (split up into seven total) that were impeding the islands before the hurricane season.
Building topics include totally rebuilding the power grid to include more renewable sources of energy; rebuilding the VA hospitals and clinics; rebuilding public schools, colleges and childcare facilities; and infrastructure.
The Huffington Post reports that 17 Republican senators have already voted against a $36.5 billion bipartisan recovery bill brought forth in October, which set aside $4.9 billion for Puerto Rico, leading many to believe the likelihood Sanders’ bill will pass is slim.
Many in opposition are pointing to the Stafford Act of 1988, which allows the federal government to rebuild only what existed before the hurricanes, meaning that certain aspects such as a defunct power grid and minimal infrastructure would be returned to the state it was in prior to total destruction.
“The sad reality is there will be more Hurricane Marias and Irmas in the years ahead,” said Judith Enck, the former Environmental Protection Agency regional administrator in charge of Puerto Rico from 2009 to January 2017. “So, it doesn’t make sense to put up the same grid that was devastated by these hurricanes.”
Leaning heavily on the power grid and energy facets of the bill, defenders of the legislation say going the renewable route will actually be cheaper in the long run and that half of Puerto Rico could be renewably powered within the decade.
“The case for renewables is that it’s the cheapest way to do it, and certainly the cheapest in the island’s isolated communities,” said Steven Kyle, an economist at Cornell University who has reviewed the bill. “Since they’re starting from zero, they have a unique opportunity here.”
The bill sets aside $428 million in grants for homeowners and cities for solar panels and microturbines and another $40 million in grants for rebuilt homes to improve energy efficiency.
Enck has even urged lawmakers to expedite the process by introducing parts of the legislation into the budget bill, slated to be debated tomorrow (Dec. 8).