October 27, 2017

35 Senate Dems Demand Administration Kick into High Gear Power Restoration Efforts in Puerto Rico & US Virgin Islands

Administration's Current Lack of Coordination, Failure to Move Quickly, And Absence of a Clear Chain of Command Threaten Power Grid Recovery Efforts & Jeopardize Health and Safety of Local Communities

Text of the letter available here (PDF)

Washington, DC - U.S. Senate Democrats, including Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), today released a new letter to administration officials demanding agencies expedite and better coordinate the ongoing power restoration efforts in Puerto Rico and the US Virgin Islands. The Democrats said the administration's current lack of coordination with local officials, clearances for crews to begin their restoration work, lack of materials and support services, and a clear chain of command on the ground are threatening recovery and rebuilding efforts. The Democrats said the immediate restoration of power is necessary and critical to homes and hospitals as well as critical power-dependent infrastructure like drinking water and sewage treatment systems. The 35 Democrats who penned the letter raised concerns that any further delays could continue to jeopardize the health and safety of residents as well as throw a wrench into the efforts to build the electrical grid back stronger and more resilient to future storms.

The Democrats laid out their demands to the heads of the Federal Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) and US Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) and said:

  • FEMA and USACE, in conjunction with PREPA, must establish a clear chain of command and identify a responsible official to oversee all contracts and coordinate with local officials so that work will be as efficient and effective as possible.
  • FEMA and USACE must clear crews from contractors to begin work as soon as possible, so further delays do not jeopardize health and safety.
  • FEMA and USACE must work together and in coordination with the governor and other local officials to ensure the expeditious vetting and clearance of crews, materials, and equipment so that they can be transported to Puerto Rico as quickly as possible, including by air if necessary.
  • FEMA and USACE must work with other relevant federal agencies to submit specific legislative language requests to Congress for the next disaster supplemental appropriations bill, given that additional authorities will be necessary in order to rebuild a more resilient grid in Puerto Rico and USVI. 

In addition to Senator Warren, the letter was signed by Senate Democratic Leader Chuck Schumer (D-N.Y.) and Senators Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Tom Carper (D-DE), Patrick Leahy (D-VT), Bill Nelson (D-FL), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), Richard Blumenthal (D-CT), Ed Markey (D-MA), Tim Kaine (D-VA), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Maggie Hassan (D-NH), Martin Heinrich (D-NM), Chris Coons (D-DE), Tom Udall (D-NM), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Chris Murphy (D-CT), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Mark Warner (D-VA), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Bob Menendez (D-NJ), Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Tammy Duckworth (D-IL), Kamala Harris (D-CA), Dick Durbin (D-IL), Chris Van Hollen (D-MD), Cory Booker (D-NJ), Amy Klobuchar (D-MN), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), and Patty Murray (D-WA).

In the weeks since Hurricanes Irma and Maria devastated Puerto Rico, Senator Warren has:

  • Joined in leading a group of 7 senators in pushing the Trump administration to increase efforts on Vieques and Culebra, especially securing the Vieques Superfund site.
  • Urged the Department of Education to use its discretion to help college students and student loan borrowers displaced or otherwise unable to continue their education in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.  
  • Led a group of senators urging DHS to take steps to ensure the accuracy of the official fatality count in Puerto Rico in the wake of Hurricanes Irma and Maria.
  • Called for Puerto Rico's debt relief during a Capitol Hill rally in coordination with the #JustRecovery march.
  • Participated in a FEMA briefing on the status of recovery efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Led a coalition of senators in a letter to President Trump, urging him to step up disaster recovery efforts on the Puerto Rican islands of Vieques and Culebra.
  • Held community meetings in Massachusetts to discuss the economic and humanitarian crises on the islands.
  • Pressed President Trump to take eight immediate, specific actions in response to the crisis in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands.
  • Urged HHS to provide additional resources and better coordinate efforts to combat the growing public health crisis on the ground.
  • Called on the President to use his authority under the Defense Production Act to more swiftly respond to the disaster.
  • Written to Republican leadership requesting that Congress be allowed to promptly take up legislation to provide the necessary aid to the U.S. citizens living on the islands.  
  • Asked President Trump to waive the local cost-sharing requirement for the hurricane response in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and for the federal government to fully cover recovery expenses.