Saturday, April 10, 2021

U.S. House Committee Studies Climate Change Effects on Puerto Rico, Territories

By on March 4, 2021

Considers Bill Providing Aid to Make Insular Areas Resilient Against Strengthened Storms 

SAN JUAN — The U.S. House Natural Resources Committee, chaired by Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.), held a virtual hearing Thursday to consider a discussion draft of the Insular Area Climate Change Act. 

According to a statement issued by Grijalva’s office, U.S. territories and freely associated states, also known as U.S.-affiliated insular areas, are at the front lines of the climate change crisis. In recent years, some territories have experienced major natural disasters stemming from climate change, including hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017, which hit Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands, and Typhoon Yutu in 2018, which hit the Mariana Islands. 

“These areas face sea level rise, coastal erosion, temperature increases, and droughts, just as the rest of the United States, and struggle with unequal access to federal programs, an over-reliance on petroleum, and out-of-date infrastructure that often does not meet hazard mitigation codes,” adds the statement issued by the committee, which oversees U.S. territories. 

Other measures in the Insular Area Climate Change Act of 2021 discussion draft include the creation of an Interagency Task Force to identify ways to provide greater access to climate change-related federal programs to U.S. territories; the establishment of an Office of Insular Area Energy Policy and Programs within the U.S. Department of Energy to centralize and expand federal energy programs in insular areas; and the creation of multiple grant programs to invest in renewable energy and sustainable infrastructure in these territories. 

The discussion draft also cancels repayments of federal loans and waives non-federal cost share requirements for insular areas, which for decades have dealt with limited financial resources. 

Among the witnesses participating in the hearing are Puerto Rico Climate Change Committee member, Ada Monzón; U.S. Virgin Islands Department of Planning and Natural Resources Commissioner Jean-Pierre Oriol; Puerto Rico Department of Natural Resources Secretary-designate Rafael Marchargo; East-West Center Sustained Climate Assessment Specialist Zena Grecni; and University of Guam Center for Island Sustainability Director Austin Shelton. 

Monzón, a meteorologist, said in her testimony that this conversation is needed “because our islands are already victims of climate change and are in a very vulnerable position compared to other countries in the world.” 

“Changes due to climate change are already evident along our coasts due to sea-level rise and coastal erosion, in the temperature and rainfall records, in the impact to our corals and marine ecosystems, in our health system and economic development, and in our response and recovery to catastrophic events,” she said. 

The meteorologist further noted that scientists around the world have highlighted that global air and sea surface temperatures are rising in an unprecedented manner. 

“Under these conditions, there will be direct and indirect effects on organisms, [the] hydrological cycle, maximum temperature records, decrease in agricultural productivity, changes in habitats and wildlife distributions, risks to human health such as stroke and cardiovascular diseases, which are the primary causes of death most associated with elevated summer temperatures, especially in two vulnerable populations, and the quality of life on Earth will significantly decrease. Life, as we know it today, will not end but will be significantly different,” she added. 

Monzón further noted that according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), hurricanes are becoming stronger, and climate change is making these storms more intense and destructive. 

“Warming has increased the likelihood of a hurricane developing into a Category 3 or higher by about 8 percent a decade, and the trend line for this type of hurricane is up,” she affirmed. “As warming continues, the likelihood of having more intense storms and moving slower can have an enormous impact on life and property. Now we are preparing for the next hurricane season in three months.” 

The hearings were broadcast via http://bit.ly/3uA0DUs (Facebook) and https://youtu.be/XsGCFtEiWkM (YouTube) 

To read witnesses full testimonies go to https://naturalresources.house.gov/hearings/discussion-on-the-insular-area-climate-change-act 

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