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Committee Leaders Urge FEMA to Extend Army Corps’ Mission in Puerto Rico Until All Electric Customers are Restored

Apr 18, 2018
Press Release
Members Concerned that Electric Grid is too Fragile for Army Corps Departure as Power Failures Continue

Today, the top Democrats of four House Committees sent a letter to Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) Administrator Brock Long requesting an extension of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers’ (USACE) mission to restore power in Puerto Rico, which is currently scheduled to expire on May 18, 2018.  The letter comes as news reports indicate an island-wide power outage hit Puerto Rico earlier today.

The letter was signed by Energy and Commerce Ranking Member Frank Pallone, Jr. (D-NJ), Transportation and Infrastructure Ranking Member Peter DeFazio (D-OR), Homeland Security Ranking Member Bennie G. Thompson (D-MS), and Natural Resources Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva (D-AZ).

“We believe that USACE must continue its vital work to restore electrical service on the island until power is fully restored and the plan for transition to full control and operation of the grid by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) is completed and implemented,” the four Committee leaders wrote.  “An extension of the Mission Assignment is necessary to allow additional time for capacity-building to ensure that a transition strategy can be effectively developed and implemented prior to the departure of federal contractors.”

More than 6 months after Hurricanes Irma and Maria made landfall, 49,000 people on Puerto Rico remain without power while ongoing blackouts continue to plague the recovering island’s fragile electric grid. Last week, nearly 900,000 – more than half of all power customers in Puerto Rico – were left without power after a single tree fell onto a primary power line leaving the main hospital and the international airport dependent upon generator power.

Full text of the letter below:

Dear Administrator Long:

We write today to request that you extend the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers (USACE) Mission Assignment to restore power in Puerto Rico beyond the current termination date of May 18, 2018.  We believe that USACE must continue its vital work to restore electrical service on the island until power is fully restored and the plan for transition to full control and operation of the grid by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) is completed and implemented.

More than six months after Hurricanes Irma and Maria made landfall, approximately 49,000 people on Puerto Rico remain without power.   Although the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) recently extended the USACE Mission Assignment until May 18,   we have received no assurance that power will be fully restored by this date.  We therefore request FEMA further extend the Mission Assignment so that USACE’s power restoration efforts can continue until power is fully restored to all communities in Puerto Rico.

Additionally, ongoing blackouts have underscored the fragility of the grid, including a blackout this morning which has reportedly affected the entire island and is expected to last an estimated 24 to 36 hours.  Today’s blackout follows an incident last week when nearly 900,000 people – more than half of all power customers in Puerto Rico – lost power when a tree fell onto a primary power line, forcing the main hospital and international airport to switch to generator power.   Given these ongoing challenges, transition to full control of future work and grid operation by PREPA requires a clear strategy developed in conjunction with the territory.  An extension of the Mission Assignment is necessary to allow additional time for capacity-building to ensure that a transition strategy can be effectively developed and implemented prior to the departure of federal contractors.

Thank you for your prompt attention to this request.

 

Sincerely,

 

Frank Pallone, Jr.

Ranking Member

Committee on Energy and Commerce

           

Peter A. DeFazio

Ranking Member

Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure

 

Bennie G. Thompson

Ranking Member

Committee on Homeland Security           

 

Raúl M. Grijalva

Ranking Member

Committee on Natural Resources

 

Cc:      Lieutenant General Todd T. Semonite, Commanding General and Chief of Engineers, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers

 

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