OUR CRUCIAL SPRING CAMPAIGN IS NOW UNDERWAY
Please donate now to keep the mission and independent journalism of Common Dreams strong.
To donate by check, phone, or other method, see our More Ways to Give page.
Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), along with five cosponsors in the Senate, introduced a comprehensive plan Tuesday to address the immediate humanitarian needs in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands and ensure that the islands not only recover, but are able to rebuild in a way that empowers them to thrive.
The Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands Equitable Rebuild Act is cosponsored in the Senate by Sens. Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) Ed Markey (D-Mass.) and Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.). Reps. Stacy Plaskett (D-V.I.), Nydia M. Velazquez (D-N.Y.) and Darren Soto (D-Fla.) will introduce a companion bill in the House. The bill is endorsed by 75 organizations.
More than two months after Hurricane Maria, much of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands remain devastated. More than half of Puerto Rico is still without power. In both territories, clean drinking water is difficult if not impossible to find in many areas and thousands of people are still living in temporary shelters.
The legislation introduced today would instruct the federal government to immediately address these humanitarian crises by mobilizing all necessary resources and assets to restore power, provide clean drinking water and food, safe shelter and access to health care. And, it would do so without forcing the territories to take on more debt.
The Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands Equitable Rebuild Act emphasizes local control and sustainable rebuilding of the territories and instructs Congress to address Puerto Rico's debt - a major impediment to a just and full recovery. And, it ensures that any federal disaster funding provided to the islands is protected from Wall Street vulture funds and acted upon with local input and local workers.
San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz offered her support for the bill: "The bill that Senator Sanders has introduced in the United States Congress is a comprehensive plan that provides the blueprint for the transformation of Puerto Rico. While dealing with all major areas of immediate concern: energy, health and education it also sets the foundation to make Puerto Rico a more equitable, just and fair society for all. Senator Sanders also shows a great deal of respect and faith in us when claiming that the recovery or Puerto Rico must be in Puerto Rican hands. The bill comes from Sanders' commitment of listening first hand to the hopes and aspirations of our people and must be given serious consideration by Congress."
"It is unconscionable that in the wealthiest nation in the world we have allowed our fellow citizens to suffer for so long. The full resources of the United States must be brought to bear on this crisis, for as long as is necessary," said Sanders, who visited Puerto Rico in October. "But we cannot simply rebuild Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands the way they were. We must go forward to create a strong, sustainable economy and energy system in both territories and address inequities in federal law that have allowed the territories to fall behind in almost every measurable social and economic criteria."
The bill addresses seven components necessary to rebuild and move the islands forward:
1)Debt and Privatization: Puerto Rico's debt must be addressed to ensure the territory can recover with dignity. Congress must also prevent the privatization of public institutions to benefit creditors in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands. Puerto Rico is struggling with an unsustainable $74.8 billion of debt, much of which is held by Wall Street creditors, with an additional $49 billion in unpaid pension obligations. The territories' recovery should not add to existing debt.
2) Resilient and Renewable Energy: Instead of simply rebuilding an antiquated, centralized and inefficient system dependent on imported fossil fuels, the bill ensures the electric grids will be rebuilt to be more renewable and resilient, to provide less expensive electricity and create local jobs.
3) Medicaid and Medicare Parity: The health care systems in the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico were inadequate before the hurricanes made landfall, in large part because they receive far fewer federal dollars compared to states. The bill makes Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands eligible for the same Medicare and Medicaid benefits as the rest of America.
4) Rebuild and Improve the VA Hospital and Clinics: Appropriates necessary funds to the VA for veterans in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands.
5) Improve Public Schools, Colleges, and Childcare Facilities: In addition to rebuilding damaged schools and childcare facilities, we must face the fact that many of these facilities were inadequate before the storms hit. Hundreds of public schools in Puerto Rico have been closed because of austerity policies and schools in the Virgin Islands are struggling to prepare students for college and future careers. The bill appropriates necessary funds for services and facilities for public Head Start, elementary, secondary and higher education.
6) Invest in Infrastructure and Spur Economic Development: Underfunded infrastructure in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands contributed to the severity of the damage from Hurricanes Irma and Maria. In addition to rebuilding damaged facilities, the legislation would make significant investments in the islands' physical infrastructure to spur the local economy and create jobs.
7) Environmental Cleanup: Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands have significant environmental contamination related to the hurricanes, prior pollution and a legacy of military bombing exercises on Vieques. The legislation would provide grants to the EPA, the Department of the Interior and the Department of Defense for environmental remediation.
"This bill from Senator Sanders is crucial because it will emphasize the importance of input in the recovery process by local impacted communities along with ensuring public participation in an open and transparent oversight process. This legislation will also promote long-term economic development, environmental safeguards, and rights of the local communities affected and to chart the path to recovery for the Virgin Islands. Ensuring the input of local communities as well as local and municipal powers in the recovery effort of the Virgin Islands is critical to a balanced response that fully meets the needs of impacted communities of the territories. It is imperative that we learn from the shortcomings from these disasters that have created a humanitarian crises the echoes of which are still being felt in the Virgin Islands," Plaskett said.
"The principles and the legislation being announced today provide a framework not just for finally getting control of the ongoing crisis - but ensuring we invest to build Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands back better. This will lay the groundwork for making Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands whole," said Velazquez.
"The people of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands suffered one of the worst disasters our country has ever experienced, and Congress has done the minimum expected of us. Congress must rise to the occasion and implement this new Marshall Plan to help our fellow American citizens rebuild and recover," said Gillibrand. "We must all pledge to stand with these families until the islands are rebuilt and fully back on their feet."
"This bill provides the help that the people of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands desperately need. It tells millions of U.S. citizens: we have not forgotten you. Congress should pass it right away -- the people of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands are counting on us. I was glad to work closely with Senator Sanders on this far-reaching bill so that we can aid our fellow U.S. citizens and help them along a path to full recovery," said Warren.
"The people of Puerto Rico have been living in a nightmare for far too long," stated Soto. "We talk about power to the people. The people of Puerto Rico and Virgin Islands need power! I am proud to co-introduce the Just Rebuild Puerto Rico & the U.S. Virgin Islands Act of 2017, legislation that will help them get the lights back on and their economies going again. As we look to rebuild the islands, we have an opportunity to become an energy model for the 21st century if we invest right."
"The people of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands have waited far too long for a comprehensive effort from the federal government to recover from these devastating storms and to rebuild in a way that makes them stronger for the future. The Administration and Congress must stop delaying, and pass real, meaningful relief so that these Americans can begin the process of long-term recovery," Markey said.
"The devastating effects of this historic natural disaster calls for a historic response. Our bill has the makings of a Marshall Plan - providing vital funds to rebuild islands' housing, electricity, health care, and basic government operations. Relief is not enough. Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands must rebuild with resilience to better withstand future disasters, and we must meet our moral obligation to help fellow American citizens in need," Blumenthal said.
For a summary of the bill, click here.
For the section by section, click here.
For a copy of the legislation, click here.
United States Senator for Vermont(202) 224-5141
"A moratorium on dangerous and underregulated carbon dioxide pipelines is essential to protect communities and the environment," said one campaigner.
More than 150 climate and other advocacy groups on Tuesday urged U.S. President Joe Biden to block authorization of all new carbon dioxide pipelines—which experts say increase emissions while posing serious safety risks due largely to underregulation—until adequate safety rules are enacted.
"We call on you to issue an executive order putting a moratorium on all federal permits for CO2 pipelines and related infrastructure, and urging states to do the same until the Pipeline and Hazardous Materials Safety Administration (PHMSA) finalizes robust new safety regulations that protect communities and the environment," the coalition wrote in a letter to the president.
"PHMSA is planning to propose revised regulations in the fall of 2024, in response to a rupture of a pipeline transporting CO2 in Satartia, Mississippi that hospitalized residents and posed significant challenges for first responders who were ill-equipped to respond to such an emergency," the signers wrote. "However, we are facing a massive build-out of CO2 pipelines now; in the absence of updated federal regulations, our communities face the risk of much larger and more devastating ruptures."
\u201cWe were proud to join over 150 other groups last week on a letter calling for a moratorium on CO2 pipelines. \n\nVia @foodandwater: https://t.co/e3Xs7LB6sf\u201d— Imagine Water Works (@Imagine Water Works) 1685475572
CO2 pipelines are used for carbon capture and storage (CCS), an unproven technology in terms of scalability that coalition member Food & Water Watch has called a "false climate solution" and a "lifeline for the fossil fuel industry."
Experts say that, in addition to emitting harmful chemicals like formaldehyde and benzene, CCS actually contributes to a net increase in emissions.
Carbon dioxide pipelines are also prone to ductile fractures from which massive amounts of CO2—a heavier-than-air asphyxiant that can travel long distances at lethal concentrations—can escape. The 2020 Satartia rupture sent nearly 50 people to the hospital and resulted in the evacuation of hundreds of local residents.
\u201cEver wondered why we say that carbon capture is a fossil fuel industry scam, even though it sounds like a good thing? Now you can learn more about why carbon capture is another lie from the fossil fuel industry!\n\nExplore our new info hub on our website. \u2b07\ufe0f https://t.co/4toQ2CxxSm\u201d— Food & Water Watch (@Food & Water Watch) 1685386904
Despite this, the Biden administration's Environmental Protection Agency earlier this month announced new fossil fuel power plant rules that rely heavily on CCS and include plans to build thousands of miles of new CO2 pipelines. Additionally, the bipartisan infrastructure law and Inflation Reduction Act both include billions of dollars for CCS expansion.
"We need President Biden to listen to the growing chorus of voices who are demanding a stop to dirty energy interests' rush to build dangerous and unsafe pipelines to transport CO2," Food & Water Watch policy director Jim Walsh said in a statement. "This industry pipe dream will quickly become a nightmare for communities in the path of these profit-driven schemes that can explode and send plumes of suffocating CO2 for miles."
\u201cCarbon capture is a fossil fuel industry scam that isn\u2019t proven to work at scale \u2013 period. That\u2019s why we need to tell Congress to invest in renewables instead. Will you join us? https://t.co/pdjL7jbwfK\nhttps://t.co/QnyjaS18t6\u201d— Food & Water Watch (@Food & Water Watch) 1684796470
"Pipelines to transport CO2 are the key component of the carbon capture scam that uses lies and misinformation to convince the public and policymakers that these dangerous and expensive projects are something other than a money-maker for dirty energy producers," Walsh added.
Maggie Coulter, an attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity's Climate Law Institute, said that "the Biden administration put the cart before the horse by creating huge subsidies for carbon capture and storage before comprehensive regulations are in place."
"A moratorium on dangerous and underregulated carbon dioxide pipelines is essential to protect communities and the environment," Coulter added.
"The commitment from Labour to oppose new fossil fuel developments is a welcome first step, but it needs to come with plans for a just transition to renewable energy," said one advocate.
While welcoming the Labour Party's vow to block new offshore oil and gas drilling if it wins control of the United Kingdom Parliament, climate justice campaigners on Tuesday implored the party to ensure that a shift to clean power is fair to displaced workers.
"The science is clear that to prevent further climate breakdown, we need to leave fossil fuels in the ground," Freya Aitchison, oil and gas campaigner at Friends of the Earth Scotland, said in a statement. "The commitment from Labour to oppose new fossil fuel developments is a welcome first step, but it needs to come with plans for a just transition to renewable energy."
On Sunday, an unnamed Labour Party source toldThe Times, "We are against the granting of new licenses for oil and gas in the North Sea." Alluding to a 2022 admission from John Gummer, a Conservative Party MP and chair of the U.K.'s independent Committee on Climate Change, the source said that such licenses "will do nothing to cut bills as the Tories have acknowledged."
"They undermine our energy security and would drive a coach and horses through our climate targets," said the source, who added that "Labour would continue to use existing oil and gas wells over the coming decades and manage them sustainably as we transform the U.K. into a clean energy superpower."
Labour Leader Keir Starmer is expected to formally announce the party's promise in Scotland next month when he unveils a net-zero energy policy blueprint. The Guardian reported Sunday that it "will involve not just a ban on new North Sea oil and gas licenses, but a pledge that any borrowing for investment should be limited to green schemes."
"Setting an end date for the extraction of fossil fuels will allow workers and communities to prepare for this transition."
Labour MP Jonathan Ashworth, shadow secretary of state for work and pensions, confirmed the party's plan. Speaking with Trevor Phillips of Sky News on Sunday, Ashworth said that "what we'll be doing in the coming weeks is outlining how we want to invest in the green jobs of the future to bring bills down, to create a more sustainable energy supply."
"We know we've got to move to more renewable sources of energy," said Ashworth. "It's important for our climate change commitments, but it's also the way in which we can bring energy bills down for consumers."
"This isn't about shutting down what's going on at the moment, we will manage those sustainably," the lawmaker continued.
Although Labour doesn't intend to halt already-approved offshore extraction in most cases, two key exceptions are drilling schemes in the Cambo and Rosebank oil fields, both of which the party vowed to block after Tories greenlighted them, The Guardian noted. The North Sea Transition Authority held another licensing round for fossil fuel exploration projects in January, receiving more than 100 bids and granting new licenses for Cambo as well as the Jackdaw gas field.
"If you stop all new exploration, you are going to have to fill the gap from somewhere and it won't all come from wind," said Ashworth. "We know that but the sums have been done."
"We do need to invest in wind. We need to invest in tidal, we need to invest in nuclear," he added. "We need more sustainable sources of energy supply in order to bring bills down for consumers and actually create jobs in this green transition."
According to Ashworth, "There are hundreds of thousands of jobs that will come online from the transition."
\u201cThe science is clear that to prevent further climate breakdown, we need to leave fossil fuels in the ground. \n\nThis must come with the right investment to ensure a massive upscaling of renewables that protects livelihoods and creates decent green jobs.\n\nhttps://t.co/Cvnr8pUsPt\u201d— Friends of the Earth Scotland \ud83c\udf0e (@Friends of the Earth Scotland \ud83c\udf0e) 1685371397
In Aitchison's words, "Starmer rightly recognizes that extracting new oil and gas in the U.K. will not bring down our skyrocketing energy bills—rather, it will cost the U.K. public money through huge loopholes in the windfall tax which incentivize companies to drill for more fossil fuels."
Last August, the U.K. Treasury estimated that the nation's energy firms were on track to enjoy up to £170 billion ($211 billion) in excess profits—defined as the gap between money made now and what would have been expected based on price forecasts prior to Russia's invasion of Ukraine—over the next two years.
A 25% windfall tax on oil and gas producers approved last July is expected to raise £5 billion ($6.2 billion) in its first year. However, the existing surtax on excess fossil fuel profits, which lasts through 2025, includes loopholes enabling companies to significantly reduce their tax bill by investing more in oil and gas extraction, something the industry has claimed will increase supply.
But as Aitchison noted, "The majority of oil from U.K. fields is exported and sold to the highest bidder, so increasing our domestic production only benefits the oil companies that are already making record profits."
Aitchison called it "vital" for Labour's announcement to be accompanied by "plans to support workers in the oil and gas industry to transition to jobs in the renewables industry."
In March, Friends of the Earth Scotland and Platform, a London-based social and environmental justice group, publishedOur Power, a report that provides a roadmap for a just energy transition in the North Sea. The plan, backed by a coalition of offshore oil and gas workers, trade unions, and climate groups, is based on surveys of more than 1,000 workers who developed 10 demands to guide a rapid and equitable shift to renewables.
\u201c\ud83d\udc77\ud83d\udc77\u200d\u2640\ufe0fOffshore oil & gas workers have a plan to lead the energy transition. \n\nThey have created 10 demands that will protect jobs, communities and the climate. \n\nWatch and share. \n\nhttps://t.co/xVRgxXtU7N\n#OurPower #JustTransition\u201d— Friends of the Earth Scotland \ud83c\udf0e (@Friends of the Earth Scotland \ud83c\udf0e) 1678088728
"Setting an end date for the extraction of fossil fuels will allow workers and communities to prepare for this transition," Aitchison said Tuesday. "It will provide certainty for the sector, making it clear that investing in renewables is the only choice for our energy future, and enabling workforce planning."
"The coming decade," she added, "must see concerted government intervention and investment to ensure a fast and fair phaseout of fossil fuels and a massive upscaling of renewables that protects livelihoods and creates plentiful decent green jobs."
As The Guardian reported:
The proposal is the latest in a series of Labour pledges over a move towards a greener economy, much of it pushed by Ed Miliband, the shadow climate change secretary.
In 2021, the shadow chancellor, Rachel Reeves, announced the party would invest £28 billion [$34.7 billion] a year in climate crisis-related measures, covering not just green energy but also areas such as home insulation, active travel, and flood defenses.
At last year's Labour conference, Starmer said Labour would set up a publicly owned energy company run on clean U.K. power, to be known as Great British Energy.
The next U.K. general election is scheduled to be held no later than January 28, 2025.
"This is the problem with 'bringing everyone to the table,'" said one critic. "Don't invite the wolf to dinner."
Calls for United Nations officials to name a new president of the annual global climate summit intensified on Tuesday as new reporting showed that people allied with Sultan Ahmed al-Jaber, president of this year's Conference of the Parties, submitted edits to his Wikipedia page in an effort to disguise his fossil fuel interests and make him appear committed to meeting the Paris climate agreement's goals.
The Guardian and the Center for Climate Reporting (CCR)reported that a number of users, including some who were paid by energy companies linked to al-Jaber, have recently edited his page of the online encyclopedia amid mounting criticism of the Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) CEO's appointment to lead the summit (COP28).
One anonymous user disclosed that they were being paid by ADNOC as they suggested Wikipedia editors remove a reference to a $4 billion oil pipeline deal al-Jaber signed in 2019 with investment firms BlackRock and KKR, saying the agreement was one of several "unnecessary details" included in al-Jaber's page.
The same user asked editors to replace a paragraph addressing al-Jaber's work with ADNOC—the world's 12th-largest oil company by production—and its juxtaposition with his role as the United Arab Emirates' climate envoy with a reference to ADNOC's investment in "carbon capture and green fuel technologies."
The head of marketing for COP28, Ramzi Haddad, was identified by CCR as the owner of a Wikipedia user account called Junktuner, which edited al-Jaber's page to include a quote from a Bloomberg editorial that said the ADNOC executive "is precisely the kind of ally the climate movement needs."
\u201cThe President of the COP28 conference is an Oil CEO. And now, the head of marketing for COP28 has been editing the COP28 Wikipedia articles to greenwash his reputation.\n\nDoes anyone else see the huge conflict of interests here?\u201d— Greenpeace UK (@Greenpeace UK) 1685464017
Haddad's edit prompted a reprimand from a Wikipedia administrator, who wrote, "The nature of your edits, such as the one you made to 2023 United Nations Climate Change Conference, gives the impression you have an undisclosed financial stake in promoting a topic."
U.S. Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.), who co-organized a letter signed by more than 130 U.S. and European Union lawmakers last week demanding al-Jaber be removed from his position as COP28 president, said Tuesday that the new reporting is the latest indication that the U.N. should "rethink how to run these very important forums."
"It's not surprising that COP28 is trying to burnish al-Jaber's green credentials, but the fact remains that as an oil executive he is also overseeing a lot of damage to the planet," Whitehouse told CCR.
Masdar, a UAE government-owned clean energy company where al-Jaber is chairman of the board and a former CEO, also paid a user who promoted the COP28 president's work at the firm. Those edits were submitted a day after al-Jaber's appointment was made public in January.
Caroline Lucas, a member of British Parliament who represents the Green Party, told CCR the revelations show "oil companies and their CEOs are taking greenwash to a whole new level," by not only "seizing control" of the global summit but also attempting to control narratives about al-Jaber, whose current company is expanding its fossil fuel production.
"It shows the brutal clampdown on the freedom of expression is in full swing months before the conference has even begun," Lucas said.
COP28 is scheduled for November. Al-Jaber was named president of the meeting weeks before the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released its latest report on the climate crisis, promoting calls to phase out coal production by 2030 in Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development countries, ensure net-zero emissions from electricity generation by 2035 for wealthy countries, and cease all funding and licensing of new oil and gas development.
Filmmaker Charles Kriel said the greenwashing of public information regarding al-Jaber by his associates shows "the problem with 'bringing everyone to the table'" at a meeting about the climate emergency.
\u201cThis is the problem with \u201cbringing everyone to the table\u201d. Big Oil and authoritarians play the long game, and will operate an agenda of mission creep. Rather, ID the bad guys and put them out of business. Don\u2019t invite the wolf to dinner. Same for tech. https://t.co/qV4af3TBC8\u201d— Dr Charles Kriel (@Dr Charles Kriel) 1685431256
Julia Steinberger, a professor of societal challenges of climate change at the University of Lausanne in Switzerland, said the latest news must push other climate envoys, including John Kerry in the U.S., to demand that al-Jaber step down.
"Sultan al-Jaber," she said, "is being exposed so clearly as an agent of the fossil fuel industry, whose main purpose is to prevent effective climate action."