House Committee discusses situation in Puerto Rico and US Virgin Islands after Irma and María
United States House of Representatives Committee on Natural Resources Chairman Rob Bishop (R) of Utah organized an informal roundtable yesterday for the members of the committee to discuss the situation in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands after hurricanes Irma and María.
Puerto Rico Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón (R) and USVI Delegate Stacey Plaskett (D) each presented to the committee a report on the situation in their respective territories, describing the total physical and economic devastation caused by the storms and the stages of progress in the response and recovery effort, as well as estimates of damages. Both spoke passionately about the experiences of their constituents and thanked the members of the committee for the commitment expressed to support the rebuilding needs.
Committee staff reviewed for the members the jurisdiction and competencies of the committee, which has oversight over the territories’ administration. This enables the committee to act in aspects such as streamlining administrative regulations; however, for other financial, labor or health service type actions it will require working together with the other committees with primary jurisdiction. That includes moving forth the emergency response legislation that may be pending before these committees. One issue that is within the Natural Resources Committee jurisdiction is Title V of PROMESA, which defines critical infrastructure projects and that may be something to which to consider having the Fiscal Board change focus or even to amend.
The Chairman and members of the committee agreed with both the Caribbean Congresswomen that there must be a new vision of FEMA’s mandate, so that it should not be merely to restore what existed on the day of landfall as it was, but to cooperate with a reconstruction that is up to current standards and less vulnerable to future hazards. The delegations from the other insular territories equally expressed their interest to have that be applicable in the future to all jurisdictions.
“I thank Chairman Bishop and all the Members of Congress who attended today’s member forum on recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. It is clear that Members are committed to ensuring that Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands have a path to recovery that does not just restore conditions as they were before the hurricanes made landfall, but that will enable the territories to come out stronger. I praise the Natural Resources Committee’s initiative to promptly address the devastating situations in both Puerto Rico and the USVI and I look forward to working with the Committee to improve the lives of the 3.5 million citizens residing in the affected territories,” said González-Colón.
“I want to thank Resident Commissioner Jennifer González-Colón and Delegate Stacey Plaskett for their leadership. Their contributions to today’s forum were extremely beneficial for our members in helping to understand the situations on the ground and the unique challenges facing both territories. I look forward to working with both of them, along with all of our members, local officials and federal partners to ensure expedient recovery and rebuilding,” Chairman Rob Bishop said.
“As we all know, a majority of the Virgin Islands remains without power. Wireless and internet service is spotty. While our local utility and telecom service providers are working swiftly to restore services, they need more resources to boost their efforts. The pace at which these services are restored is critical to our recovery time. While only some of these needs are within the jurisdiction of the Committee of Natural Resources, the Office of Insular Affairs will play a prominent role in our recovery efforts,” Delegate Plaskett said. “Support from the House Committee on Natural Resources is crucial and is needed in terms of making sure the Virgin Islands has the necessary funds for Technical Assistance and Capital Improvement Project grants for the our operational and infrastructure needs which will include our hospitals, schools, roads, and wastewater treatment. I would also urge Members of the Committee on Natural Resources to support in the future broader legislation addressing our longer-term recovery efforts.”