Puerto Rico is the best argument for the Green New Deal

PR

Alexander C. Kaufman (Huffington Post) writes on how Puerto Rico, still struggling under the 2017 hurricane damage, shows why half-measure climate change policies will not work. Here are a few excerpts (I highly recommend reading the full text and watching the related video at the Huffington Post).

Even a little rain threatens Lucy Cruz with what feels like biblical wrath.

When the skies open up ― as they often do ― the Caño Martín Peña, a nearly four-mile canal that connects San Juan Bay to two lagoons in the middle of Puerto Rico’s sprawling capital city, floods into her neighborhood. And with the floodwaters come rats, trash and human feces, flowing through the winding streets. Cruz is one of 26,000 people who live in the communities ― some of the city’s poorest ― that nestle along the channel.

The canal is a literal cesspool. The Environmental Protection Agency found fecal bacteria there in concentrations of 1.5 million colonies per 100 milliliters of water, which is 7,500 times the level considered safe. Asthma rates for children under 5 living near the canal are twice the average for the rest of Puerto Rico. The National Institutes of Health found that the likelihood of suffering diarrheal diseases and mosquito-borne dengue infections surges the closer someone lives to the channel.

The risk of floods increases as climate change raises sea levels and exacerbates storms, and it threatens the nearby Luis Muñoz Marín International Airport, a vital hub for people and goods on an island dependent almost entirely on imports from the mainland. The solution to the problem is straightforward: The canal needs to be dredged.

Yet Senate Republicans nixed money earmarked for the canal during the latest row over relief funding as President Donald Trump launched new attacks on Puerto Rico, accusing the debt-strangled territorial government of abusing disaster aid. The canal had issues before hurricanes Irma and Maria made landfall in September 2017, but the Federal Emergency Management Administration’s rules limit disaster funds to rebuilding what was destroyed, not making improvements. And as it is, that funding is just trickling in a year and a half after the storms, and the channel waits in a long line of infrastructure in need of upgrades.

The fate of the canal, say advocates and policymakers, shows exactly why the United States needs a Green New Deal. Puerto Rico’s high unemployment rate and natural affinity for renewable energy already match up with the idea of a national plan to ramp up clean energy manufacturing and provide millions of good-paying jobs. But the Green New Deal’s promise of salvation for impoverished communities at risk from extreme weather and sea level rise is what fits so well with this trash-strewn channel.

The Caño Martín Peña is a perfect example of a long-neglected capital project in a historically disadvantaged area that faces bigger risks as the world warms. The canal needs public works funding and planning to protect San Juan from climate change. The locals need good-paying jobs. And lawmakers in Washington need a testing ground for an expansive program to safeguard Americans against the travails of worsening global warming and poverty.

The Green New Deal is a nascent effort. In February, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.) released a joint resolution staking out the core beliefs behind the initiative. Since then, think tanks and policy architects on Capitol Hill have been hard at work drafting policy and defending the resolution against blistering, misinformation-filled Republican attacks. But in Puerto Rican neighborhoods like Martín Peña, the movement takes on a new urgency.

“It’s not a theory in Puerto Rico, it’s happening,” Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rosselló told HuffPost. “We are feeling these effects now.”

[. . .] The Green New Deal calls for generating as much of the nation’s power as possible from renewable sources over the next decade. On most days, Puerto Rico is soaked in sun and blown by ocean winds, and islands are generally considered ideal testing grounds for microgrid technologies that allow communities to generate their own power with renewables and batteries. The Green New Deal outlines incentives to spur electric vehicle and clean energy manufacturing. Puerto Rico, once a vibrant manufacturing hub, has the factories and workforce needed to get those industries up and running quickly. The Green New Deal promises to guarantee federally backed union-wage jobs for millions. Puerto Rico’s unemployment rate was still more than 8% in February, over double the national average.

The list goes on. Puerto Ricans living in damaged homes and the island’s nearly 3,200 homeless residents could benefit from the Green New Deal’s potential to build millions of affordable public housing units. Puerto Rico’s paltry 10.7 miles of rail lines give a real shine to the Green New Deal’s promise of increased investment in trains. Puerto Rico’s dependence on imports for 85% of its food, despite once being the breadbasket of its corner of the Caribbean, adds allure to the Green New Deal’s goal of breaking up agricultural monopolies and spurring a new era of local family farming.

[. . .] ‘Puerto Rico Should Be The Template’

Even the Trump administration seems to recognize that Puerto Rico’s current trajectory isn’t sustainable. The EPA said it is hamstrung by rules dictating which projects disaster relief can fund. “By definition, recovery money is not supposed to go to” upgrades, said Pete Lopez, the EPA’s regional administrator for Puerto Rico. “But we’re trying to do creatively as much as we can.”

He called on Congress to pass legislation that ramps up funding. “Ultimately, we need legislative, statutory and regulatory resource allocation,” Lopez said. That seems far off. The best legislative package introduced so far came in November 2017, when Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) proposed a bill to spend $146 billion on a “Marshall Plan” to rebuild Puerto Rico with renewable energy and climate-prepared infrastructure. [. . .]

For full article, see https://www.huffpost.com/entry/puerto-rico-green-new-deal_n_5cb8d6bce4b032e7ceb646bc?

One thought on “Puerto Rico is the best argument for the Green New Deal

  1. Reblogged this on It Is What It Is and commented:
    Let’s get it done … ‘On most days, Puerto Rico is soaked in sun and blown by ocean winds, and islands are generally considered ideal testing grounds for microgrid technologies that allow communities to generate their own power with renewables and batteries. The Green New Deal outlines incentives to spur electric vehicle and clean energy manufacturing. Puerto Rico, once a vibrant manufacturing hub, has the factories and workforce needed to get those industries up and running quickly.’

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