This version has been updated from the original to include a statement from Del. Stacey Plaskett.
Washington, D.C. – Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) today introduced the Insular Area Climate Change Act. The bill – cosponsored by Vice Chair Gregorio Sablan (D-CNMI), Reps. Darren Soto (D-Fla.) and Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.), and Delegates Stacey Plaskett (D-V.I.) and Michael San Nicolas (D-Guam) – seeks broad financial and technical support to prepare millions of U.S. citizens and nationals living in U.S. territories for climate change.
In 2017 Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands were hit hard by Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria. These disasters caused thousands of deaths and significant damage to local infrastructure, including Puerto Rico’s fragile power grid. In 2018, Typhoon Yutu struck the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam, causing multiple deaths and destroying thousands of homes in the two territories.
The already serious impacts of climate change for those living in the insular areas are made worse by unequal access to federal programs that build climate resiliency, an over-reliance on petroleum, and existing infrastructure that fails to meet new hazard mitigation codes.
Based in part on these experiences, local governments, climate change experts, organizations, and communities contributed to the development of the Insular Area Climate Change Act, which is available online at https://bit.ly/3emQ1kx. The Natural Resources Committee held a legislative hearing on March 4 on a discussion draft of the bill, which included a panel of local political leaders and climate experts to speak on the unique climate-related conditions and threats facing the insular areas.
The Insular Area Climate Change Act provides for climate change planning, mitigation, adaptation, and resilience in U.S. Territories and Freely Associated States. Among other measures, the bill mandates:
- The creation of a federal interagency task force to provide U.S. territories greater access to climate change-related federal programs.
- The establishment of an Office of Insular Area Energy Policy and Programs within the Department of Energy to better direct energy management, planning, delivery, and conservation programs in the insular areas.
- The establishment of an Insular Area National Program Office within the Environmental Protection Agency focused on strengthening infrastructure to withstand natural disasters, expanding renewable energy and energy efficiency, providing technical assistance, and centralizing EPA efforts in the insular areas.
- Multiple grants to study and develop technologies to reduce climate crisis impacts in the insular areas.
- Additional grant programs to expand renewable energy and energy efficiency and develop sustainable infrastructure to withstand natural disasters in the insular areas.
- The cancellation of federal loan repayments and the waiving of matching fund requirements for insular areas, which for decades have struggled with limited financial resources.
- The creation of a report by the Secretary of the Interior and other experts that includes an analysis of nuclear waste and other toxins within the Enewetak Atoll, including in the “Runit Dome” nuclear waste disposal site and the dumping areas in Enewetak’s lagoon, and plans to relocate this waste to a secure facility.
“For too long, Congress and federal agencies have treated millions of people living in U.S. territories as second-class citizens or worse,” Grijalva said. “President Trump’s response to the destruction of Hurricane Maria was to throw a few paper towels around in a public relations stunt. This bill came from actually listening to the people of the territories, taking their needs seriously, and replacing decades of neglect with financial support and a focus on insular climate impacts.”
“Consistent with this administration’s commitment to recognizing the circumstances of our Territories, the leadership of the Committee on Natural Resources is historically moving forward the single largest federal climate bill focused on our Territories,” San Nicolas said. “From grants to tax relief, to new programs and directors, bringing together many federal agencies and requiring a variety of federal studies and tracking, this comprehensive package will empower our islands to respond to the climate crisis like never before, and we are honored to be a part of making it happen.”
“U.S. territories are facing sea-level rise, more frequent and intense tropical storms, extreme temperatures, and serious public health risks because they’re on the front lines of the climate crisis,” Plaskett said. “Millions of people are depending on Congress to take the threats to the Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam seriously and not leave them behind. I am happy to be a co-sponsor of the Insular Climate Relief bill. Important provisions in this bill include the renewable energy and micro-grid grant program for the territories in which my office initiated as an amendment to the H.R.4447 – the Clean Economy Jobs and Innovation Act – which passed the House last year. Also, the bill contains a cost-share waiver on FEMA assistance for the hurricane recovery projects in the Virgin Islands, which would provide very important fiscal relief to the territory to aid its rebuilding efforts. It would also forgive Community Disaster Loans issued by the federal government to the Virgin Islands after the back-to-back hurricanes. This would be very useful additional fiscal relief and would free up much-needed local resources to be put towards community needs. The bill would also create a number of other new grant programs for the territories that would be beneficial to Virgin Islanders.”
A fact sheet on the bill is available at https://bit.ly/3tLBPrG.
Statements of Endorsement
The Solar & Energy Storage Association of Puerto Rico salutes the leadership of the Committee on Natural Resources on moving forward with the important Insular Area Climate Change Act. As a Caribbean island, we fully understand the increasing dangers of climate change Puerto Rico. We appreciate increasing federal support as we continue recovering from the devastating damage caused by the hurricanes of 2017, and prepare for inevitable future extreme weather events.
We are particularly excited about many portions of this legislation, including creation of an Interagency Task Force to focus on topics such as providing equitable baseline funding to Puerto Rico in relation to the States. Whereas the States have enjoyed a 25 percent or higher discount tax benefit on the price of solar installations for many years, Puerto Ricans have lacked access to this and other important federal programs. Having the highest poverty rate in the nation, Puerto Ricans are in greatest need this type of support.
There are several other provisions which are important at this particularly vulnerable time in Puerto Rico’s rebuilding. The waiver of cost-share requirements is important as Puerto Rico’s economy is still reeling. Energy efficiency product rebate programs can help reduce stress on our power grid – the oldest, most fragile in the nation. Renewable energy grants to nonprofits could be transformational, as nonprofit organizations are playing a leading role in renewable energy deployment on the island.
We stand ready to help with implementation of the Insular Area Climate Change Act, which we hope to be soon signed into law, in Puerto Rico.
President, Solar and Energy Storage Association of Puerto Rico
Climate change will impact everyone, unfortunately, but resources to adapt to it and improve resilience are not currently equitably available. The Insular Area Climate Change Act would help address the unique risks and needs faced by our neighbors across the U.S. Territories and Freely Associated States. This bill would strengthen the resilience of these island communities through dedicated technical assistance, improved access to actionable data, and financial support for energy efficiency and renewable energy deployment to boost mitigation and adaptation efforts in response to climate change.
Executive Director, Environmental and Energy Study Institute
The Puerto Rico Energy Bureau is pleased to support the introduction of the Insular Area Climate Change Act. A core function of the Energy Bureau is to protect the ratepayers of the electric utility. After the devastation of hurricanes Irma and Maria, FEMA obligated $10.5 billion under the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act for the rebuild of the electric system in Puerto Rico. Currently, this assignment requires 10% matching from the state. This state match is significant and without the passing of this bill, ratepayers will be bearing this cost. Electric utility ratepayers in Puerto Rico are already stretched thin after having to confront the comprehensive devastation of hurricane Maria and the aftermath of earthquake events that have affected the south region of the Island where most of the utility electric generation sits. The ‘Disaster Relief Non-Federal Cost-Share Waiver” is an essential measure destined to protect the ratepayers in Puerto Rico, and we applaud this initiative.
We also laud efforts to tap offshore wind, a renewable resource vastly found throughout the Insular Areas that has the potential to become a major driver against climate change. Puerto Rico has a statutory mandate to reach 100 percent renewable generation by 2050, tapping this vast resource as soon as possible will facilitate compliance with this mandate.
Edison Aviléz Deliz
Chairman, Puerto Rico Energy Bureau
Media Contact: Adam Sarvana
(202) 225-6065 or (202) 578-6626 mobile
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