Climate change response aid proposed for territories, freely associated states
Washington, D.C. – Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.), chair of the House of Representatives' natural resources committee, this week introduced the Insular Area Climate Change Act, which proposes broad financial and technical support for U.S. territories and freely associated states to help them prepare for climate change.
The Insular Area Climate Change Act provides for climate change planning, mitigation, adaptation, and resilience in U.S. territories and freely associated states.
Among other measures, the bill mandates:
The creation of a federal interagency task force to provide U.S. territories greater access to climate change-related federal programs.
The establishment of an Office of Insular Area Energy Policy and Programs within the Department of Energy to better direct energy management, planning, delivery, and conservation programs in the insular areas.
The establishment of an Insular Area National Program Office within the Environmental Protection Agency focused on strengthening infrastructure to withstand natural disasters, expanding renewable energy and energy efficiency, providing technical assistance, and centralizing EPA efforts in the insular areas.
Multiple grants to study and develop technologies to reduce climate crisis impacts in the insular areas.
Additional grant programs to expand renewable energy and energy efficiency and develop sustainable infrastructure to withstand natural disasters in the insular areas.
The cancellation of federal loan repayments and the waiving of matching fund requirements for insular areas, which for decades have struggled with limited financial resources.
The creation of a report by the Secretary of the Interior and other experts that includes an analysis of nuclear waste and other toxins within the Enewetak Atoll, including in the “Runit Dome” nuclear waste disposal site and the dumping areas in Enewetak’s lagoon, and plans to relocate this waste to a secure facility.
“For too long, Congress and federal agencies have treated millions of people living in U.S. territories as second-class citizens or worse,” Grijalva said.
“President Trump’s response to the destruction of Hurricane Maria was to throw a few paper towels around in a public relations stunt. This bill came from actually listening to the people of the territories, taking their needs seriously, and replacing decades of neglect with financial support and a focus on insular climate impacts.”
“Consistent with this administration's commitment to recognizing the circumstances of our Territories, the leadership of the Committee on Natural Resources is historically moving forward the single largest federal climate bill focused on our Territories,” said Guam Delegate Michael San Nicolas, one of the bill's cosponsors.
“From grants to tax relief, to new programs and directors, bringing together many federal agencies and requiring a variety of federal studies and tracking, this comprehensive package will empower our islands to respond to the climate crisis like never before, and we are honored to be a part of making it happen," San Nicolas said.
The bill was also cosponsored by Vice Chair Gregorio Sablan (D-CNMI), Reps. Darren Soto (D-Fla.) and Nydia Velázquez (D-N.Y.) and Delegates Stacey Plaskett.
In 2017 Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands were hit hard by Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Maria. These disasters caused thousands of deaths and significant damage to local infrastructure, including Puerto Rico’s fragile power grid.
In 2018, Typhoon Yutu struck the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands and Guam, causing multiple deaths and destroying thousands of homes in the two territories.
The already serious impacts of climate change for those living in the insular areas are made worse by unequal access to federal programs that build climate resiliency, an over-reliance on petroleum, and existing infrastructure that fails to meet new hazard mitigation codes.
The Natural Resources Committee held a legislative hearing on March 4 on a discussion draft of the bill, which included a panel of local political leaders and climate experts to speak on the unique climate-related conditions and threats facing the insular areas.
"We appreciate increasing federal support as we continue recovering from the devastating damage caused by the hurricanes of 2017, and prepare for inevitable future extreme weather events," said PJ Wilson, president of Solar and Energy Storage Association of Puerto Rico.
" Whereas the states have enjoyed a 25 percent or higher discount tax benefit on the price of solar installations for many years, Puerto Ricans have lacked access to this and other important federal programs," Wilson said.
Having the highest poverty rate in the nation, Wilson said Puerto Ricans are "in greatest need of this type of support."
Daniel Bresette, executive director of the Environmental and Energy Study Institute, said climate change will impact everyone, but but resources to adapt to it and improve resilience are not currently equitably available.
"The Insular Area Climate Change Act would help address the unique risks and needs faced by our neighbors across the U.S. territories and freely associated states," Bresette said. "This bill would strengthen the resilience of these island communities through dedicated technical assistance, improved access to actionable data, and financial support for energy efficiency and renewable energy deployment to boost mitigation and adaptation efforts in response to climate change."