Washington - Raúl Grijalva, chairman of the House Committee on Natural Resources, said yesterday that promoting a debate on the political status of Puerto Rico would undermine the urgency of the recovery process after hurricane María, the analysis of the fiscal crisis and promoting measures to boost the economy.
"If we begin to discuss the status, the significance of those three issues will be lost," said Democrat Grijalva, during an interview to talk about the meetings his committee will hold as of Friday in Puerto Rico.
About the claim of Governor Ricardo Rosselló Nevares and the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) for the Committee of Natural Resources to include the political status on the agenda, Grijalva said that those willing to participate in the learning session on Friday can bring any subject for discussion.
However, he insisted the main subjects on his, and the Committee´s agenda are the island´s recovery; analyzing the austerity measures imposed by the fiscal plan and the budget certified by the Board -overseeing Puerto Rico´s public finances – as and a possible review of PROMESA.
Grijalva said that the low voter turnout in the 2017 status referendum undermines the possibility to advance a statehood proposal, as the government of Puerto Rico wants, and he considered that any federal plebiscite should include all possible status alternatives.
Grijalva also suggested the possibility to press for measures that are not in his Committee direct jurisdiction, such as full access to the Child Tax Credit (CTC) and lifting the cap on Medicaid and Medicare for Puerto Rico.
For Grijalva, studying Puerto Rico´s recovery process after a devastating hurricane like María is definitely related to the “effect” that austerity measures have on the education and health care systems.
Grijalva has expressed interest in reviewing PROMESA and the authority of the Board over the elected government.
Last weekend, Governor Rosselló Nevares said he will propose an amendment to PROMESA to prevent the Board from dictating the public policy of the island.
"There has to be something that provides a level of protection to the self-determination of Puerto Rico and (to the officials) they choose to represent them. We cannot give away that value that is so important. It would be part of a reform (of the law), how to protect and promote the concept of self-determination ... to ensure that the interests of the people of Puerto Rico are the priority," said Grijalva.
Regarding any process aimed at amending PROMESA, he said that he is aware that he has to count on Republicans, who control the Senate, and that ultimately everything will depend on the details proposed.
"That's why the visit (to Puerto Rico) is so important. A reform to PROMESA is not going to be easy. That is why we want to have a balance between the interests of Puerto Rico and general interests seeking to boost the economic development," he said.
Six of the 42 members of the Committee on Natural Resources - with primary jurisdiction over the affairs of Puerto Rico, including status, PROMESA and the Board - will be visiting the island this weekend.
Grijalva; Republican spokesman, Rob Bishop (Utah); the Puerto Rican Democratic Representatives Nydia Velázquez (New York) and Darren Soto (Florida); Resident Commissioner in Washington Jenniffer González and the the Northern Mariana Islands delegate Gregorio Sablan have already confirmed they will be part of the delegation.
From Friday to Monday, they will hold meetings with the local heads of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and with mayors as well as separate meetings with the governor and the Board. The will also hold a learning session at the Roberto Clemente Coliseum on Friday and they will visit the Toro Negro solar community in Ciales, another one in the Loíza Aldea area.
Grijalva indicated that the learning session on Friday, which will start at 6:30 p.m., may last about two hours.
Since they will meet with mayors on Sunday and they will have a meeting with the governor on Monday, Grijalva -Co-Chair Emeritus of the Congressional Progressive Caucus - said that they want to to listen to "the most affected ones" on Friday.
"We are not going to choose anyone, nor is there special access for anyone. We will not be there to debate, but to learn and listen directly to the Puerto Rican people," said Grijalva.
During the visit to Toro Negro on Saturday, the delegation will also see Larry Seilhamer, Senate vice president and Eduardo Bhatia, spokesman for the Popular Democratic Party in the Senate. Seilhamer and Bhatia have been working on the bill seeking to define the public policy and the energy regulatory framework for the island.
Grijalva suggested to create the role of an inspector general to oversee the power grid transformation process and that he wants to promote the use of renewable energy sources.
The recovery plan designed by the Puerto Rican government states that they need at least $16 billion in federal funds for the transformation of the island´s energy system.
Upon returning to Washington, Grijalva plans to draw up a plan for public hearings on the island´s priority issues. But, he said that since has not defined exactly where and when to start, it is essential to talk with different sectors of the Puerto Rican society.