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Reps. AOC, Schumer and Velázquez call on FEMA to make Puerto Rico’s electrical grid upgrade sustainable. Photo: Getty images  
Reps. AOC, Schumer and Velázquez call on FEMA to make Puerto Rico’s electrical grid upgrade sustainable. Photo: Getty images  

Texas disaster spurs Reps. AOC, Velázquez, Schumer to call on FEMA to upgrade Puerto Rico’s electric grid

“The island can lessen their economic woes & climate change vulnerability by building a sustainable grid that'll create thousands of jobs,” Ocasio Cortez wrote…

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The recent winter storm disaster in Texas and the consequences of failing to invest in renewable energy and appropriate winterization is prompting some U.S. legislators to think of Puerto Rico. 

On Feb. 25, Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (NY-14), Nydia Velázquez and Sen. Chuck Schumer led a group of 14 House and Senate members to sign a letter to FEMA, calling on it to use its planned $9.6 billion investment in Puerto Rico’s electrical grid to help transition the island to renewable energy. 

The request comes as millions of Texas continue to face the devastating consequences of their state’s failure to invest in renewable energy and prepare their infrastructure for climate change. 

“Puerto Rico is stuck in a vicious cycle. After every climate disaster, billions are spent repairing the vulnerable, centralized electric grid that is heavily dependent on fossil fuels. Rather than address the root of the problem, we ensure it will happen again,” said Rep. Ocasio-Cortez in a statement. 

After suffering years of neglect at the hands of the Trump administration following Hurricane Maria and an onslaught of earthquakes, the Bronx rep writes that now is a chance to do better than simply rebuilding and further investing in an energy system that is reliant on fossil fuels and, as what was seen in both Puerto Rico and Texas, vulnerable to natural disaster. 

“We can address both the Island’s economic devastation and vulnerability to climate change by investing in a modern, reliable, sustainable energy grid that will create thousands of good-paying jobs. We must seize this opportunity and break the vicious, failed cycle of federal disaster response,” she continued. 

Their letter to FEMA notes that the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) planned to use $853 million in FEMA funds for the construction of new natural gas generation infrastructure. This is in addition to the funds that would be used to “perpetuate the existing vulnerable centralized transmission and distribution system.”

The members are asking FEMA to encourage PREPA to use this relief to transition renewable energy systems instead. They write it is “essential” that PREPA modernizes, so that it is no longer subjected to future storms and altogether more resilient. 

The letter cites existing vulnerabilities in Puerto Rico, including already present infrastructure that is flood-prone and at-risk to rises in sea level, tsunamis, or other flooding risks.

They’re vulnerabilities that have led to constant outages on the island, community displacement, harm to local economies, and even migration to the mainland. As it stands, signers say Puerto Rico’s power system is “exceptionally” vulnerable to natural disasters. 

“FEMA should support a sustainable energy plan for the electric grid that responds to the calls from Puerto Rico’s residents for exactly that and help end the cycle of disaster damage,” the letter reads. 

This comes after a commitment in early February by the Biden administration to finally distribue $1.3 billion in previously-unreleased aid for the island to help rebuild after Maria. 

“We need to break this vicious cycle in Puerto Rico, Texas & beyond,” Rep. AOC wrote on Twitter. 

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