Environmental Community Letter on Puerto Rico Disaster Relief Package
350.org * Alaska Wilderness League * American Bird Conservancy * American University Animal Law Society * American University Environmental Law Society * Azul * Catalyst Miami * Center for Biological Diversity * Center for International Environmental Law * Clean Water Action * Climate Hawks Vote * ClimateTruth.org * Defend Our Future * Defenders of Wildlife * Earth Ethics, Inc. * Earthjustice * Earthworks * ecoAmerica * Endangered Species Coalition * Environmental Protection Information Center * EPCF – Global Climate Disruption * Green for All * GreenLatinos * Greenpeace USA * Hip Hop Caucus * Hispanic Federation * Information Network for Responsible Mining * Interfaith Power & Light * International Mayan League * Latino Outdoors * League of Conservation Voters * Moms Clean Air Force * Mujeres de la Tierra * NACOPRW – DC Metro * National Audubon Society * National Wildlife Federation * National Wildlife Refuge Association * Native Plant Conservation Campaign * Natural Resources Defense Council * New Florida Majority * Noble Renewables Group LLC * Ocean Conservancy * Ocean Futures Society * Oil Change International * Physicians for Social Responsibility * Power Shift Network * Progress Florida * Public Citizen * Quality Parks * Rachel Carson Council * Sierra Club * Solar Head of State * Southern Alliance for Clean Energy * Sunrise * SustainUS * The City Project * The Climate Reality Project * The Wilderness Society * Turtle Island Restoration Network * Union of Concerned Scientists * Voces Verdes * WE ACT for Environmental Justice * Western Watersheds Project
October 6, 2017
Dear Majority Leader McConnell, Minority Leader Schumer, House Speaker Ryan, and Minority Leader Pelosi,
We write with urgency to express our deep concern about the humanitarian crisis currently taking place in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, as communities attempt to recover from the devastation caused by Hurricane Maria. In solidarity with the victims and with our partners and allies of the National Hispanic Leadership Agenda (NHLA), we urge you to take all necessary additional steps to alleviate the suffering, including those priorities outlined in the letter NHLA sent you and the President on October 1, 2017. In particular, we urge Congress to pass a comprehensive and clean emergency relief package that meets the estimated need of over $70 billion in assistance.
Hurricane Maria left 3.4 million Americans in Puerto Rico and another 100,000 in the U.S. Virgin Islands without water, electricity, and communications. The situation in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands is a humanitarian crisis of catastrophic proportions. It is essential that the people of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands receive the resources they need to start recovering as quickly as possible.
Weeks after Hurricane Maria devastated the island, Puerto Rico remains in dire need of aid, having lost 100 percent of its electric service, hampering communications and complicating recovery efforts for the 3.4 million American citizens living on the island. Additionally, residents overwhelmingly lack access to clean drinking water. Further, some are in areas that have not yet been reached by rescuers, and supplies are dwindling. There are news reports of hundreds of containers full of emergency supplies sitting idle in the San Juan port due to lack of truck drivers and gasoline. Even if the trucks could circulate, many highways, bridges, and roadways remain inaccessible, blocked, or destroyed.
Some progress has been made, such as the 10-day suspension of the Jones Act. However, the magnitude of the disaster is such that all efforts to date, as reported by the Commonwealth’s government and people on the ground in Puerto Rico, are clearly not enough. Congress urgently needs to pass a clean and comprehensive emergency relief package that matches the estimated need, which surpasses $70 billion in immediate assistance. The relief bill must provide the funding and economic tools necessary to get the long-struggling Puerto Rican economy back on its feet in the wake of this disaster of epic proportions.
The relief package must fully address the current crisis while protecting the rights and safeguards that communities will rely on to rebuild their infrastructure and economy. The people of Puerto Rico should lead these recovery efforts with the goal of a more resilient Puerto Rico. This means that a recovery bill cannot undermine or eliminate environmental, labor, public engagement, and civil rights safeguards such as the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Far from creating delays in recovery, climate resilience and safeguards like NEPA make infrastructure stronger and keep local communities in the driver’s seat of development.
Informed planning provided by NEPA and other climate resilience safeguards will help avoid a repeat of the Lake Guajataca dam failure, which was compromised as a result of Hurricane Maria and caused the evacuation of nearly 70,000 people. The next hurricane could be equally catastrophic if the disaster relief package fails to include a focus on long-term climate resilience and careful planning through NEPA. Sufficient appropriations must be allocated to ensure that long-term climate adaptation, mitigation, and resilience are front and center so that the next major hurricane does not wreak as much devastation.
Moreover, without access to clean water, electricity, and communication the islands will need more time than currently allotted to rebuild. Consequently, a relief package that fully answers the depth of need will also extend the following deadlines. The package should extend FEMA’s deadline for filing disaster relief claims from 60 to 120 days and the Jones Act waiver from 10 days to 1 year. It should also waive the federal matching requirements for FEMA disaster public assistance programs beyond the 180 days already approved. In addition, the Community Development Block Grant Disaster Recovery Program, Earned Income Tax Credit, and Child Tax Credit programs must be made available to Puerto Rico. With so many having lost their homes, livelihoods, and access to healthcare, the federal ceiling on Medicaid for Puerto Rico must be eliminated and funded on a parity basis.
As evidenced by the influx of supplies to San Juan and limited manpower to distribute them, we urge the deployment of significantly more U.S. military personnel, and that the full communications, logistics, and engineering supports of the U.S. Armed Forces be made available to Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan as he oversees relief efforts.
There has been bipartisan support expressed for aid for Puerto Rico, including from leadership in both the House and the Senate. We urge Congress to work expeditiously to pass a comprehensive and clean emergency relief package that addresses the crisis in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. This relief package must alleviate the suffering and provide for the future without compromising the long term development of the islands or the safeguards their residents deserve.
Thank you for your attention to this urgent issue.
Alaska Wilderness League
American Bird Conservancy
American University Animal Law Society
American University Environmental Law Society
Center for Biological Diversity
Center for International Environmental Law
Clean Water Action
Climate Hawks Vote
Defend Our Future
Defenders of Wildlife
Earth Ethics, Inc.
Endangered Species Coalition
Environmental Protection Information Center
EPCF - Global Climate Disruption
Green For All
Hip Hop Caucus
Information Network for Responsible Mining
Interfaith Power & Light
International Mayan League
League of Conservation Voters
Moms Clean Air Force
Mujeres de la Tierra
NACOPRW- DC Metro
National Audubon Society
National Wildlife Federation
National Wildlife Refuge Association
Native Plant Conservation Campaign
Natural Resources Defense Council
New Florida Majority
Noble Renewables Group LLC
Ocean Futures Society
Oil Change International
Physicians for Social Responsibility
Power Shift Network
Rachel Carson Council
Solar Head of State
Southern Alliance for Clean Energy
The City Project
The Climate Reality Project
The Wilderness Society
Turtle Island Restoration Network
Union of Concerned Scientists
WE ACT for Environmental Justice
Western Watersheds Project