Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Sheldon Whitehouse joined 34
Senate Democrats today to call on administration officials to expedite and better
coordinate the ongoing power restoration efforts in Puerto Rico and the U.S.
Virgin Islands. In a letter, the Democrats said the administration’s
current lack of coordination with local officials, clearances for crews to
begin their restoration work, materials and support services, and a clear chain
of command on the ground is threatening recovery and rebuilding efforts.
The Democrats said the immediate restoration of power is
necessary and critical to homes and hospitals as well as critical power-dependent
infrastructure like drinking water and sewage treatment systems. The
letter states that any further delays could continue to jeopardize the health
and safety of residents and throw a wrench into the efforts to rebuild the
electrical grid stronger and more resilient to future storms.
The Democrats laid out the following demands to Federal
Emergency Management Administration (FEMA) Administrator William B. “Brock”
Long and U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Chief of Engineers Lieutenant
General Todd T. Semonite:
FEMA and USACE, in conjunction with [the Puerto Rico
Electric Power Authority], must establish a clear chain of command and identify
a responsible official to oversee all contracts and coordinate with local
officials so that work will be as efficient and effective as possible.
FEMA and USACE must clear crews from Fluor and PowerSecure
to begin work as soon as possible, so further delays do not jeopardize health
FEMA and USACE must work together and in coordination with
the governor and other local officials to ensure the expeditious vetting and
clearance of crews, materials, and equipment so that they can be transported to
Puerto Rico as quickly as possible, including by air if necessary.
FEMA and USACE must work with other relevant federal
agencies to submit specific legislative language requests to Congress for the
next disaster supplemental appropriations bill, given that additional
authorities will be necessary in order to rebuild a more resilient grid in
Puerto Rico and USVI.
A copy of the letter to FEMA and USACE appears below:
Dear Administrator Long and Lieutenant General Semonite:
We write to express our serious concern with the on-going
power restoration efforts in Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands
(USVI). The continued significant power outages throughout Puerto Rico and the
USVI pose a serious threat to public health and safety.
We are committed to the long-term rebuilding of the power
grid in a way that is more resilient to extreme weather events and integrates
technologies like microgrids, renewable energy, and distributed energy
resources. But, we understand the primary federal focus must be the
immediate restoration of power, not only for homes, hospitals, and other
services but also for critical power-dependent infrastructure like drinking
water and sewage treatment systems.
To help address this issue we have a number of specific
requests, particularly with respect to Puerto Rico, outlined below:
Incident Commander & Coordination:
As of today, the United States Army Corps of Engineers
(USACE) and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) have separately
contracted with several companies for electric grid restoration work in Puerto
Rico. While we remain concerned about the structure of some of these
contracts and we intend to review them and the length of time it’s taken to
issue the awards, we must simultaneously use appropriate means to deploy all
available resources to aid in this effort as quickly as possible.
We are particularly concerned with the lack of a unified
command for electric grid restoration to ensure that resources are properly and
quickly utilized, that specific tasks are appropriately prioritized, and that
efforts are not duplicative. Therefore, we urge both of your agencies, in
conjunction with PREPA, to establish a clear chain of command and identify a
responsible official to oversee all contracts and coordinate with local
officials so that work will be as efficient and effective as possible.
This official should be in charge of marshalling all available resources
in the power restoration effort including ensuring the effective deployment of
the logistical capabilities of the USACE, and the equipment, crew, and
materials capabilities of private contractors and other public utilities.
While coordinating the power restoration effort is critical,
we also ask that you play a more active role in coordinating with other federal
agencies working on the recovery efforts. For example, if through the
course of your efforts you discover that additional or amended mission
assignments from FEMA to the USACE would be helpful, then we urge both of your
agencies to request those in a timely fashion. Furthermore, while coordination
with private contractors and PREPA is important, USACE and FEMA should
simultaneously be working closely with the Department of Energy’s Office of
Electricity Delivery and Energy Reliability to ensure that every federal
resource and all relevant technical expertise available is deployed to aid in this
effort. We simply cannot afford to allow bureaucracy, jurisdictional issues, or
other similar challenges to delay power restoration efforts.
Teams, Materials, & Equipment:
It is our understanding that the USACE has contracted with
PowerSecure and Fluor to help lead a number of restoration projects in Puerto
Rico. Unfortunately, initial reports indicate, notwithstanding the assessment
crews currently on the ground that the vast majority of crews and materials
from these two companies to begin major repair work will not arrive in Puerto
Rico until the first week of November at the earliest, which is simply
unacceptable. Hurricane Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico on September 20,
over 40 days before major power restoration projects under these contracts
would be set to begin and 32 days since USACE received its initial mission
assignment from FEMA. In order to help advance this timeline, we urge
USACE and FEMA to clear crews from Fluor and PowerSecure to begin work as soon
as possible. Further delay only further jeopardizes the health and safety
of the residents of Puerto Rico.
In addition to immediately issuing a notice to proceed to
Fluor and PowerSecure, we also strongly encourage you to establish basecamps on
Puerto Rico that could then be used by additional utility crews. We have
received confirmation from a number of electric utilities, including members of
the American Public Power Association (APPA) and the Edison Electric Institute
(EEI), that they are eager to send crews to aid in the grid repair and
restoration efforts. However, in order to facilitate that process those crews
will need camps with running water, food, and shelter and therefore we urge
USACE to work with the appropriate entities to quickly establish camps that
could be used by these additional crews. In addition, once the camps are
established, we urge you to coordinate with PREPA to activate additional
assistance via mutual aid agreements, existing contracting vehicles, and other
expedited processes that will ensure the maximum number of crews necessary are
aiding in this effort.
Power restoration in Puerto Rico is of paramount importance
and this effort is going to take an all-hands-on-deck approach. The USACE
should leave no stone unturned in the solicitation of additional equipment,
personnel, and assistance in this project. Furthermore, the USACE and FEMA
should work together and in coordination with the governor and other local
officials to ensure the expeditious vetting and clearance of crews, materials,
and equipment so that they can be transported to Puerto Rico as quickly as
possible, including by air if necessary. Reports that crews and equipment
ready to help in the recovery process are being delayed at ports and airports
is simply unacceptable and must be addressed immediately. We are ready to
assist you in overcoming any of these potential obstacles.
In the coming weeks, we also intend to seek your assistance
to ensure the electric grid is rebuilt in a more resilient way, with more
distributed energy resources that rely on solar and wind power and microgrids,
a transition away from reliance on fossil fuel imports, and a strong
independent regulatory body that can ensure accountability and lower rates for
consumers. We urge you to work with other relevant federal agencies to
submit specific legislative language requests to Congress for the next disaster
supplemental appropriations bill, given that additional authorities will be
necessary in order to rebuild a more resilient grid in Puerto Rico and
USVI. In the near term, we expect that immediate repairs to the power grid
will be made in accordance with the current codes and standards, as required by
law. We look forward to partnering with locals in Puerto Rico and the USVI, the
USACE, FEMA, and others in this important effort.
While we understand that the effort to restore power in
Puerto Rico and the USVI is a monumental task, it’s also one which we cannot
afford to further delay. We appreciate your attention to these matters as well
as your efforts to address other recovery issues throughout the country,
including on-going work in Texas and Florida.