Commitment to work for a new Puerto Rico
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Puerto Rico is experiencing serious social, economic and political challenges. Too often, inadequate or badly designed federal policies – the barriers created by the White House to disburse federal disaster funds, the execution of PROMESA, and the resolution of the Island’s political status – have made it more difficult for the Puerto Rican people to address these challenges.

As the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, I am committed to discussing how to resolve these issues. I recognize the limitations of a divided Congress, but I believe that complexity and difficulty are not good reasons to avoid a necessary conversation. Nor should they become excuses for Congress or the federal government to ignore their commitments to the people of Puerto Rico, who have said loudly and clearly that genuine change and the common good must be our top priorities.

During the first seven months of my tenure as Committee chairman, I have prioritized oversight of the reconstruction of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) grid, the implementation of PROMESA, and the authorization of needed Medicaid funds. I have chosen these priorities, in consultation with my staff, because of what I saw during visits to communities in the island and in meetings with local government officials and civic leaders, community groups, think tanks and advocacy organizations. Their compelling vision for Puerto Rico has played a key role in my legislative agenda.

PREPA is receiving billions of dollars in federal disaster funds to rebuild and modernize its infrastructure. In April, the committee held a hearing to discuss the agency’s reconstruction status and privatization process. The Electrical Industry and Irrigation Workers Union (UTIER), Center for a New Economy, Puerto Rico Institute for a Competitive and Sustainable Economy, and other organizations shared their concerns about this rebuilding process and offered recommendations to the Committee. Their testimonies primarily focused on PREPA’s challenges in rebuilding the grid, the problems with an allegedly politically driven framework for privatization, and the projected impact of repaying approximately $8 billion in legacy debt.

Since then, based in part on that testimony, I have opposed the latest agreement for the restructuring of PREPA’s legacy debt because it jeopardizes the implementation of the affordability and renewable energy goals included in the Puerto Rico Energy Public Policy Act of 2019. I have urged both leaders of the Legislative Assembly to do the same.  

In May the committee held a hearing to discuss issues with PROMESA implementation. The University of Puerto Rico, Espacios Abiertos, Institute for Youth Development, and other entities shared with the committee lessons learned three years after the law’s enactment. The conversation focused on how austerity measures had impacted Island residents’ quality of life and on the implications of the COFINA debt restructuring agreement, which fiscal experts deem unworkable due to the minor cuts in the principal owed. I and several colleagues continue to oppose austerity measures and advocate additional resources for public education and health care services in Puerto Rico. Our staff continue to scrutinize new debt restructuring agreements to ensure they protect pensioners and generate meaningful financial relief for island residents.

I followed the demonstrations of hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans demanding new political leadership in the island very closely. I look forward to working with the governor and emerging leaders with a new vision for Puerto Rico. My staff and I are prepared to support key initiatives for the island, taking into consideration the recommendations of communities, municipalities, and civic organizations. We continue to be available to hear your concerns and proposals.

In the upcoming months, I plan to revisit Puerto Rico to meet with local government officials and communities to discuss their accomplishments, obstacles and priorities. In Washington, D.C., my colleagues and I will continue monitoring the disbursement and use of federal disaster funds. The committee will conduct a hearing to discuss potential PROMESA amendments and mechanisms to improve the effectiveness of reconstruction efforts. The committee will seek feedback from think tanks, academic organizations, community groups and advocacy organizations at the hearing – and afterward – to determine the best way forward.

As chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, I commit to you that I will be directly involved in how we handle all matters related to Puerto Rico, and that hearings will be conducted at the full committee level. In the short term, the committee will continue to prioritize oversight of federal disaster recovery efforts and PROMESA implementation. Once these matters have stabilized, I am committed to discussing the political status of the island. I look forward to hearing from and working with individuals, communities and organizations from Puerto Rico to advance a fair and equitable agenda that benefits the residents of the island.

Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva is chair of the House Committee on Natural Resources.