U.S. Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) is proposing the creation of an Office of Insular Area Energy Policy and Programs under the U.S. Department of Energy to direct energy management, planning, delivery and conservation programs in the U.S. territories.
The proposed office is among the key features of a draft bill that Grijalva plans to introduce in the U.S. House of Representatives. The draft bill seeks to reduce climate crisis impacts on U.S. territories and freely associated states.
“U.S. territories are facing sea level rise, more frequent and intense tropical storms, extreme temperatures, and serious public health risks because they’re on the front lines of the climate crisis,” said Grijalva, chair of the natural resources committee.
Scientists say Pacific Island nations face challenges from climate change-related impacts.
"Global warming, sea-level rise, changing weather patterns and extreme events, pressure on water and food security, human health risks, and impacts on wildlife and ecosystems are considered as major impacts of climate change," writes Lalit Kumar, author of "Climate Change and Impacts in the Pacific."
Kumar, from the School of Environmental and Rural Science at th University of New England in Armidale, Australia, said Pacific Island countries register the greatest negative impacts of climate change even though they account for only 0.03 percent of the world’s total greenhouse gas emissions.
"Current and projected climate change poses a set of fundamental challenges to the local economy and livelihoods, resulting in human mobility and cross-border displacement and migration. The dispersed nature and heterogeneity of the Pacific Island countries presents special challenges for localized climate projections and adaptation strategies," Kumar said.
Grijalva is encouraging local government officials, organizations and communities to provide feedback on the discussion draft by Friday, Nov. 13.
'“Millions of people are depending on Congress to take the threats to Puerto Rico, American Samoa, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Guam, and the Virgin Islands of the United States seriously and not leave them behind," Grijalva said.
"I’m gathering feedback from local government officials, organizations and communities to refine this legislation before officially introducing it because the threat is serious and we have to get this right the first time.”
Other key features of the discussion draft include:
The establishment of an Energy Efficient Appliance Rebate Program to provide funding allocations to reduce energy demand in the U.S. territories.
The creation within the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of a Climate Change Insular Research Grant Program to provide grants to institutions of higher education for monitoring, collecting, synthesizing, analyzing, and publishing local climate change data.
A waiver of non-federal share funding requirements associated with disaster relief and long-term recovery funding made available to U.S. territories and freely associated states pursuant to the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Emergency Assistance Act.
Grijalva noted that among other issues, U.S. territories and freely associated states will likely continue to experience sea level rise, coastal erosion, and increasing storm impacts that threaten lives, critical infrastructure, and livelihood security. Temperature increases will likely exacerbate droughts, reduce water supply, and increase demand for fresh water.
In 2017, two major storms, Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria, inflicted severe damage on Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands of the United States. Hurricane Maria caused thousands of deaths in Puerto Rico and significant damage to its infrastructure, including the territory’s energy system. In 2018, Typhoon Yutu caused catastrophic destruction on the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands.