PUERTO RICO

As Puerto Rico struggles to recover from Hurricane Maria, Bernie Sanders is demonstrating leadership in a new plan to restore the territory.

The devastation caused by the category 5 storm that hit Puerto Rico in September could cost as much as $95 billion, according to an estimate from Moody’s Analytics. The head of the Army Corps of Engineers says more than a million Puerto Ricans could be without power until January or February. In the meantime, surgeons are having to perform life-saving procedures by flashlight and physicians are having to make do without basic medical supplies.

However, a comprehensive recovery plan by Sen. Sanders (I-Vermont) could restore Puerto Rico completely by taking a new approach to the territory’s infrastructure needs.

The bill would provide $146 billion in new funding for Puerto Rican recovery by steering the territory toward an electric grid powered by renewable sources, like wind and solar energy. Sanders’ legislation would also provide the territory with tens of billions in economic development funding, educational funds, and environmental recovery money. In a tweet announcing the plan, Sanders called Puerto Rico’s current grid “antiquated.”

Currently, 100 percent Puerto Rico’s electric power grid is serviced by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), which all but declared bankruptcy last July. PREPA also came under fire for granting a $300 million, no-bid power restoration contract to Whitefish Energy Holdings, which is only two years old and recently had just two full-time employees. Whitefish’s contract charged Puerto Ricans $240 an hour for a general foreman, and $227 for a lineman.

Sen. Sanders’ bill is unlikely to be brought up for a vote in the Republican-controlled Senate, but several of his Democratic colleagues have signed onto his plan to restore the territory, including possible 2020 presidential candidate Sen. Kamala Harris (D-California).

“Our fellow Americans are facing a humanitarian crisis. The need the help of their government, right now,” Harris tweeted.

President Trump, in the meantime, has all but forgotten about the ongoing crisis in Puerto Rico since his disastrous trip to the island when he told residents that Hurricane Maria wasn’t as bad as Hurricane Katrina. The last time Trump tweeted about Puerto Rico was October 19 — the same day he gave his administration a “10 out of 10” on its handling of the crisis.

 

Michael Boone is a freelance journalist and columnist writing about politics, government, race, and media. He graduated from Texas Southern University’s School of Communication, and lives in Houston’s Third Ward.

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