Representatives from the Congressional Energy and Commerce Committee, Stacey Plaskett (D-VI) and Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón (R-PR) visited Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands over the weekend. The delegation provided the members of the Committee, which is involved in disaster response for both territories, with greater insight into the issues facing the islands.
The members of the delegation:
- Full committee Chairman Greg Walden (R-OR)
- Full committee Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ)
- Energy subcommittee Chairman Fred Upton (R-MI)
- Energy subcommittee Ranking Member Bobby Rush (D-IL)
- Environment subcommittee Chairman John Shimkus (R-IL)
- Health subcommittee Chairman Michael C. Burgess, M.D. (R-TX)
- Oversight subcommittee Vice Chairman Morgan Griffith (R-VA)
- Oversight subcommittee Ranking Member Diana DeGette (D-CO)
In Puerto Rico, the delegation visited the Palo Seco power plant, saw Army Corps of Engineers projects, and learned about Puerto Rico’s electrical grid. They met with Puerto Rico leaders and gained a better understanding of the effects of the disaster and the needs of the territories.
Since territories are not treated the same as states in disaster recovery, some of the methods used to determine need and payments don’t work for the territories.
“These formulas have to change so you are treated like states,” Frank Pallone was quoted as saying in the Virgin Islands. “It’s not only important that we are here today, but that we follow up.” Pallone was involved in the response to Hurricane Sandy in New Jersey.
Rep. Walden was quoted, also in USVI, as saying, ““My biggest take away here is – let’s build it back right.”
Both statements applied to Puerto Rico as well as to the Virgin Islands. In Puerto Rico, as of this writing, less than 70% of the Island has electricity. Power has been an ongoing problem in the territory, where electrical power to homes and businesses has been both expensive and unreliable. Current efforts include rebuilding of the pre-hurricane electrical grid where possible, but also discussion of alternative energy sources. Puerto Rico is well suited to solar and wind power installations.
In an article at The Hill, Reps. Diana DeGette and Fred Upton emphasized the importance of timely action. “It’s been nearly three months since the hurricanes hit, and these people still live under these circumstances,” they wrote. “Let’s not let the rush of congressional activity during this hectic last month of the session, the customary crush of activities of the holiday season, or whatever happens day to day in D.C. divert our attention from our Caribbean compatriots. We must continue to fight for them and their futures.”