Puerto Rico Needs More Than Bandages

The island’s power and water utilities require wholesale rebuilding to achieve resilience against the next big storm.

Comments: 134

  1. It seems we have forgotten how to plan for the future, where we can examine the problems and develop solutions to lessen the damage in the future. We have lost the will to boldly go where we have never been before, that frontier spirit that took us into unknown lands to discover new ways to achieve our goals, which have shifted from benefiting the most of us, to everyone trying to get the most for themselves.

  2. There needs to be a "come to Jesus" discussion with our fellow citizens who control the government in Puerto Rico. I think the example of the truck drivers being allowed to go on strike shortly after Irma and leaving much needed supplies on the docks when Puerto Rican's were suffering. The mayor of San Juan blaming Trump for her own short comings. Until this kind of thinking gets changed, any money we invest in Puerto Rico will be sucked up by the corrupt leading families.

  3. There WAS NO truck driver's strike on the island after Irma or Maria.

  4. So the truck drivers went on strike eh.
    You've been had again with the fake news. MAGA brother.

  5. The following statement made by Mekela Panditharante is most telling:

    "Even before Hurricane Maria, decades of disinvestment had left Puerto Rico’s energy grid and water and wastewater systems particularly vulnerable to hurricanes."

    Ms Panditharatne then blithely proceeds with her fairy tale vision of electric and water/wastewater utilities being robustly restored for the people of PR through the unfettered largesse of the US government!

    She gives no thoughts, insights or prescriptions as to what measures are sorely needed from PR's leaders and citizens to correct the horrendous manner in which they managed their infrastructure for those decades of "disinvestment".

    I'm sorry, but simply because a lawyer from the NRDC proposes an idea, doesn't make it realistic or worthy.

    I'm sure I speak for many Americans here on the mainland as well as on Puerto Rico who would say - don't provide billions more to dysfunctional territorial and municipalities in PR with proven track records of incompetence and corruption UNLESS they can demonstrate adequate controls over how those funds will be invested and managed for the long-term. That's the real lesson that shouldn't need to be learned twice.

  6. Funding Puerto Rico is not charity. It is payment of a debt. Puerto Rico is owed support. It is owed support as part of the insurance function of government. It is owed support as payment for past exploitation. It is owed payment for environmental dumping that made the US and Europe rich before the earth's capacity was exhausted.

  7. Past exploitation? Compare the standard of living of two former Spanish colonies: Cuba and Puerto Rico. In 1898 the Spanish American War resulted in the US taking possession of both. Per our promise, Cuba became independent. Puerto Rico remained a US territory. Median income in Cuba today is Cuba ($300) and Puerto Rico ($19,429). So again, what past exploitation?

  8. dairubo - I don't think you know PR, the government, or the past. The US has given them hundreds of billions of dollars and support over decades. Their government is and has always been corrupt to the core. 40% work for the government, so the impetus to change is tough; politicians continue to be re-elected. 30% refuse to pay taxes and claim to make no money; they prefer to keep it, claiming government waste and corruption. Those that do pay taxes get nothing for their money. Services are corrupt to the core as well. Regulations - they've hundreds of thousands, all serving the pockets of government officials. Half the interior is filled with partially built buildings because 'inspectors' continue to demand payment for ludicrous 'permits' to the point that builders cannot afford to finish. Everyone that is anyone knows a government official that they pay to grease the palms of the local 'inspectors' and magistrates.

    PR is owed nothing, it is it's own boss - always has been. And the hundreds of billions that sit .. where? off-island.. in the hands of the corrupt and inept government of 40% of the population was pure waste. You do not know PR or what you talk of, but many do and even the working Puerto Ricans will tell you that their only problem is and has always been their government.

  9. Charles Becker: Have you tried living on $19,500? That's "median" which means it's in the middle.

    Blaming the poor has become a community activity here, and I wish people would grow a heart.

    I'm tempted to suggest they have rewritten Jesus: "Go, sell all you have and give to the rich"!

  10. I don't doubt that Puerto Rico's infrastructure needs to upgraded; the question is who should pay for it. Fixing the damage done by Hurricane Maria is an appropriate use of federal disaster funds. Making up for years of corruption and lack of investment while Puerto Rico ran its economy into the ground, and using Hurricane Maria as an excuse to totally rebuild Puerto Rico's infrastructure with federal tax dollars, is not.

  11. Oh, sure–it's always so easy to blame the victim, isn't it? You need to conduct a LOT more research into and study of the real and true causes of our sister island-nation's present economic and infrastructure ills...

  12. You might look at the higher costs for items coming by ship, the tax incentives for industry removed after decades , etc and:
    Take a look at the hedge fund craziness

  13. You mean the tax incentives for industry no state ever enjoyed. Or the continuing exemption from federal income tax.

    Hedge fund craziness - you mean buying defaulted Puerto Rico debt.

  14. The issues here are very complicated. My family has had a small business interests in PR since the late 1960's. I have found the Puerto Ricans to be a very hard working and resourceful people. You have to be to make ends meet on the island. But the government is unapologetically corrupt & inefficient to the core. That is beyond debate. If the PR politicians ran a state like they do the island they would be under federal indictment. Even before the hurricane hit, water & power systems were already broken. They have a $118 billion debt crisis because of government corruption & mismanagement. PR can afford to be corrupt because they know we will always bail them out. And we do. This isn't fair to us or them. PR should be an independent state. Right now PR's status as a U.S. commonwealth means its 3.5 million citizens don't have the full rights of U.S. citizens. There's no rational reason military or economic why the U.S. should have this territory. It's 2018 we should be out of the Empire building business. Economic & cultural arguments aside, statehood has never been a real option for PR. Indeed, PR's status as an territory means that it "belongs to, but is not part of the U.S." A Republican-controlled Congress would never admit Puerto Rico -- with its massive debt and overwhelmingly Democratic voting base -- into the U.S. PR is a nation not a state. The 1st step to getting PR back on their feet is letting them run their own country. The sooner the better for all concerned.

  15. But, under current laws, the citizens of PR would have to vote for independence, and they are not so foolish. Currently, only about 5% support independence. And if the Federal government imposed independence, we’d have another 2 million plus Puerto Ricans—who are US citizens—migrating to the mainland. So, I independence is a no go. And the current status is also a bust. Statehood remains the only viable option, long term.

  16. There are three positions regarding the status of PR.
    commonwealth, essentially status quo

    None can achieve majority, 51%

  17. This can not be emphasized enough. There is absolute zero chance of PR ever becoming a state....zero. It doesn't serve our long term interests or theirs. If they become a separate nation their citizens will be treated like any other country and will have to apply for a visa. So we won't have to accept another 2 million plus Puerto Ricans. Puerto Rico remains the awkward embarrassment for the US. America, a nation founded on the rejection of the imperial yoke continues to hold on to its own colonial outpost, 119 years after the fact. It is shameful to be a colonial territory in the 21st century, and for the United States to own one. The nation that is the standard bearer of freedom and democracy should not be in this position.

  18. Awful predicament for Puerto Ricans, and for the unfair measures from the mainland to keel this island so dependent. A stronger infrastructure is of the essence, and it behooves all of us to help. This, with the surety that next season or two, a similar natural disaster may be in the offing, especially if we keep ignoring man-made worsening of the ferocity and frequency of thunderous times (hurricanes, droughts, floodings, fires, etc), irrespective of Trump's calling it a hoax (perhaps if his golf courses are hit, he may feel obligated to reconsider). In addition to the need of repairing the damage, Puerto Rico urgently needs another source for it's survival and recovery, jobs.

  19. The US will not be offended if Bolivia wants to help out.

  20. The World around folk are calling for jobs, jobs, jobs.
    There must be a more fundamental issue, a more fundamental deficiency.

  21. Right on; Bolivia is a generous country; as you know, even the most powerful nation can behave badly, 'pinching' pennies, and disregarding solidarity towards the least among us. And, contrary to some narrow thought, the poor tend to help each other much more than rich neighbors that don't even bother to get to know each other. But I'm stating the obvious. Constructive criticism is better than 'looking the other way' as long as it doesn't touch us personally. We lack, too often, some humility, judging by how little we know, compared to what is out there. Shall we perhaps exercise at least some prudence? (Doing the right thing, even if difficult?). Shall we wait, quietly, once Trump cuts the social safety nets the U.S. people depend on? (as his budget contemplates huge irresponsible indebtedness, and requiring the amputation of funds for the survival of Social Security, Medicaid and Medicare...instead of a bloated 'military' and tax cuts for millionaires). But I digress. Your point is well taken; and Puerto Rico shall be thankful if the giving is sincere, however little.

  22. Hardly matters what we build, it will be falling apart in a year or two,

  23. Words to live by

  24. While I agree that we need to help Puerto Rico, we should also remember all the times they voted against becoming a state.
    Puerto Rico has enjoyed the freedom to avoid paying federal income tax. They should also enjoy the freedom of fixing their own problems.
    They made their choice multiple times at the polls and they need to deal with the consequences.

  25. I believe what all this is about is our US Territories not having the Congressional resources to help themselves ... failed US Congress

  26. Actually, they voted down statehood, thank God. Puerto Ricans are wonderful people, I've met many while working there. They will all tell you that their government is corrupt to the core. 40% work for the government and are entitled to unreal benefits, thanks to the government that makes the decision on what to pay itself. 30% pay no taxes; they see that as fair because they don't want to pay taxes to a corrupt government, and like to keep that money. Until the island starts to collapse under it's own failures. Without Maria, this island was bankrupt, inept, corrupt, and wasted billions in aid earmarked for infrastructure.

    The people are good, and most work hard. But not the government and that's too large a percentage to have things ever work. PS they just want the money, not any over-sight. They do not believe the US has the right to interfere. So, don't act like PR is a state or part of the US.

  27. PR owes the US more than 70 billion dollars. They borrow, but never pay. Few pay Federal taxes, but the pittance that is paid (it is a source of pride to lie on taxes when in PR), is nothing compared to the aid the US supplies in food stamps, healthcare, free or subsidized housing, and education. The US pays billions in support each year, is owed billions from non-paid debt over decades, and you are celebrating 3.7 billion in taxes paid in 2011?!

  28. I am sick and tired of the Republicans giving money to the richest 1%, at the expense of all other American citizens.

    Years ago, I was jogging on the beach with my godfather, an old-time New England Republican, dean of an Ivy League school. I stopped to pick up a big gulp cup someone had thrown on the beach, garbage lying in plain sight,

    He stopped, looked at me and said, "You are a good citizen."

    I am not a communist, but I do think we all have a part to play as citizens of this great nation of ours. We need to all be good citizens.

    I think we need to step up and demand better of our representatives. We need to demand that our infrastructure be updated for the 21st century, that our roads are superb, that our railroads are as good as the Japanese, that our airports are airports that others aspire to.

    I'm sick of the Republicans shortchanging our country so that the richest people can have more money. In the time of Eisenhower, a Republican president, we built things with public money.

    We did it before. Let's do it again.

    Let's actually Make America Great Again, indeed.

  29. Giving more aid to a corrupt government makes no sense at all. PR has received hundreds of billions of dollars - none making it to infrastructure, maintenance of existing power grids, water or anything else.

    But not sure where the rant on Republicans comes from. Both parties are self serving and care only about which party controls Congress, the White House and for how long. No compromise, no working on real issues, just useless.

    Lastly, while not a member of any party, I pick up garbage when I see it. Help out where I can; think nothing of it. I'm sure there are Reps that do the same, as well as Dems. To claim that all Reps are evil, lousy citizens is nonsense.

  30. You live in Los Angelos where your airport is owned by the city which is run by Democrats, not Republicans. The later has nothing to do with the vast majority of your infrastructure which is under the control of Democrats in your area.

  31. The case for a radical restructuring of the electrical grid and water systems in Puerto Rico is easy to make. This of course should include a solar micro-grid system.

    But Puerto Rico's problem is political not technical. The debt stands in the way of everything needed for recovery. This debt could easily be eliminated and the bond holders held safe if congress wanted to act.

    All they have to do is treat Puerto Rico as if it were a bank. In 2008 the Fed acquired toxic assets from several of our major banks. They then loaned those same banks billions at near zero interest rates enabling them to regain their economic footing. To make up for assuming this debt the Fed simply increased the money supply.

    They could and should do the same with Puerto Rico. In fact the QE rate that averaged around 85 billion dollars a month could wipe out Puerto Rico's entire debt in one month. The Fed would assume the debt obligations and bondholders would be paid, just as those from the banks were.

    Puerto Rico would then need far less in hurricane relief because the 300 million a month that they now spend on interest on their debt could be re-directed to hurricane relief.

    To do this simply requires that the administration see the people of Puerto Rico as being just as important as the bond holders of Citi bank. And therein lies real the challenge.

  32. But your plan would reward the pirates who stole all this money to begin with, and the vulture capitalists who seek to profit from those loans. Had that loaned money actually been wisely used for infrastructure, education, and healthcare, PR would be looking pretty good. But most of the money was given raked off by corrupt contractors in league with corrupt politicians, while the Federal government politely looked the other way, and while most Puerto Rican’s kept their heads in the sand (if not in some darker place). When will we ever learn?

  33. The banks that received bailout funds paid them back; the U.S. Treasury made money on the bank portion of the bailout. There is no way that Puerto Rico could pay back the level of funding that it needs.

  34. The banks were held responsible to pay back the bonds with interest. PR never pays what it borrows, never uses borrowed money for it's intended purpose, and has always had a hand out for more. Corrupt to the core. Really tired of the ignorance of so many readers when it comes to PR. Please, go and visit for a couple of weeks.

  35. "The mass movement of Puerto Ricans to the mainland after last fall’s hurricanes may provide one of the first examples of a large-scale climate migration in the Americas."

    And these US citizens will vote. The president's demonstrated disregard for the storm damage on Puerto Rico, compared to his reaction and funding for Texas and Florida, was so blatant as to be patently clear: Puerto Rico and its citizens do not matter for this administration.

    I still have that picture of Donald Trump making a quick and very belated trip to the island only to throw paper towel rolls to the crowd as if they were trained seals.

    Yes, there was a diaspora to the mainland following Maria. I hope each and every Puerto Rican citizen, come November, reminds this administration, with their votes, what it feels like to be ignored during their hour of need.

  36. "their hour of need" has been going on for decades. How is did the president "disregard" Puerto Rico? and just maybe the Puerto Ricans will remember that Democrats ran the territory;.

  37. CMM,
    You really need to get beyond your hatred of President Trump. It solves nothing and only blinds you from the truth that Puerto Rico's infrastructure problems existed long before this presidency. Over ten billion dollars have now been allocated to PR for rebuilding which will take years to spend. Would another administration have allocated the 94B requested? Hardly. As Talbot commented, the per capita cost is prohibitive. That's enough to comfortably relocate everyone to the mainland and close the island.

  38. The ignorance about what the US has done for PR is astounding.

  39. Do they ever.

    But we depend largely on our states to maintain their infrastructures, helping them out temporarily with emergency funding when natural calamities strike. What we’re talking about here is basically re-imagining and building Puerto Rico’s infrastructure from scratch. I imagine Chicago’s South Side might reasonably question when THEIR federal bailout is coming.

    And doing it for PR wouldn’t stop at $95 billion – with the normal cost overruns and the endemic corruption that is too obvious to deny, it would turn into hundreds of billions. It’s a non-starter.

    What we need to do is expand our bankruptcy laws to allow states and territories to declare bankruptcy, overseen by federal courts, to get PR’s crushing public debt accumulated by its public-private corporations under control. Then, federally guaranteed loans could jump-start the rebuilding, so long as federal agencies are heavily involved in a supervisory capacity.

    It’s actually a lot more than infrastructure that needs to be fixed in Puerto Rico.

  40. Interesting to see how high their interest rates would go if PR was permitted bankruptcy. Up into the wild blue yonder is my guess.

  41. Heckler:

    Not with federally guaranteed loans.

  42. Mr. Trump loves private industry. Let's see what they can do in Puerto Rico. Instead of rebuilding the same-old-same-old systems, let's have:
    - water treatment tied to water reclamation with a biologic basis
    - implementation of hardened underground power distribution
    - development of scalable microgrids
    - and so forth

    In exchange for their expertise, if they achieve success, they should have the right to exclusive license for these systems in the entire US to bring modernity to underserved and remote regions. Sure, we might have a few Solyndra's but we might also have a few Xerox's or IBM's.

  43. As a resident in PR, I can attest to the poor quality of our infrastructure, as outlined by Panditharatne. And I agree that Microgrids are the best option for the PR electrical grid. But the political intransigence is stunning. I work for the University of PR, and have filed three detailed suggestions over the last three years for deploying solar on our campuses. Each time, I received a polite and positive response from the chancellor, with a promise to “look into it,” but nothing is ever done. At a meeting of the Arts and Sciences faculty, the same suggestion to deploy solar was raised and received a standing ovation, and, again, the dean who presided over the meeting promised to follow through with some further analysis. But, two months hence, we of course have heard nothing. We have heard, however, that the electric bill on our campus (Mayaguez) averages around $800,000 per month! Now, given that solar panels can be purchased and installed for less than $2 per watt, and given that the Mayaguez campus has acres of flat roofs and parking areas in full sun, and given that UPRM is a famous engineering school, with local experts in solar energy, ya might think we’d move on this. But obviously the administration prefers shovel $ to the electrical authority. THIS is the problem in Puerto Rico!

  44. A US Territory, with out the resources to help itself, looks to the US Congress.

  45. Puerto Rico in its post hurricane state could be the poster boy for not how to do infrastructure. For not how to plan for the future by utilizing technologies that work around fossils, don't rely on massive powers grids and require costly delivery methods. Puerto Rico needs to be rebuilt and it should be done responsibly with the future effects of climate change in mind first and foremost. It should be noted that they are hardly alone in this dilemma. The mainland faces the same concerns as the coasts flood and burn as a result of climate change.

    The paramount question here is how long do we step backwards in regard to environmental issues while the costs to recover from them becomes exponentially more costly with each passing year. Imo we have reached the point in time where we can no longer live just for the moment. Without a livable future there will be no more moments to live for.

  46. News flash, PR is an island in line with the Hurricanes that develop north of the equator. Has been for 1000s of years. Their lack of 'climate change ready' infrastructure is due solely to the corrupt government and the 40% that work for that corrupt government. Nothing to do with climate change, at all.

  47. Newsflash! climate change is very real and man does contribute to it. Regardless of what they did or do climate change will not wait for them or us to get it right. Pushing fossils when alternatives are easily available is just plain foolish. We can get on board or pay the price. I personally will not advocate for imperiling the planet in the interest of careless profiteers who live only for the moment.

  48. I had never been to Puerto Rico until recently. It is a beautiful island filled with men who apparently are underemployed. It was the middle of a work week and I was surprised at the large amount of people who seemed unemployed and uninterested in employment.

    Time to round these fellows ( gals too ) up and get them out there working. I noticed damage on almost every street I walked, surely someone can figure out how to get these folks back to work.

  49. I really doubt that “rounding them up” is a good way “to get people to work.” On the other hand, I have no doubt that people will work hard and willingly if it’s in their interest and they have the resources. The more sensible question is why isn’t the Trump administration providing the resources?

  50. They are underemployed because FEMA and the US Corp of Engineers have given most contracts to stateside companies who've brought their workers from the mainland, instead of hiring local residents.

  51. Not working is the past time for many, unfortunately. But the US is mostly to blame on that one - we provide free housing, food stamps, healthcare, and fund education. With all those freebies, there was no reason to work unless it interested you, or you wanted to move into an upscale neighborhood. Well intended, but completely ineffective 'assistance.'

  52. Puerto Rico does need more than bandages. It desperately need tourists to return to this beautiful island, instead of staying home reading the constant barrage of negativity in the US media. As a long time winter resident I can see with my own eyes that many areas have recovered. Hard working Puerto Ricans are laboring to rebuild homes, businesses, and towns. To be sure there is much more left to do. So if you want to personally make a difference hop on a plane, come down, and enjoy the island. People's livelihoods depend on it.

  53. $95 billion is $270,000 for each of Puerto Rico's 3.5 million citizens. For a family of 6, that's close to $2 million dollars.

    I cannot believe it would cost $2 million per family to provide water and electricity. That's simply an insane number.

  54. Um, your math is not quite right. 95 billion divided by 2.5 million = 27,000, not 270,000. That's still expensive though.

  55. Wow, Talbot.

    That's one way to think about it, but it's pretty inaccurate. A highway overpass/exit was just finished in my little town to improve the turnoff to a truck stop and help safety, as there's a train crossing and an intersection nearby. It cost millions of dollars; there are only a few thousand people living there. But this highway is busy with truck traffic, carries non-local people up and down the coast of America and it's NEEDED.

    By your logic, it's unbelievable! that it cost yadda dollars per family. Get it?

  56. Many of the problems attributed to Puerto Rico can be attributed to mainland USA. We also have old and leaky water systems, sewage systems that are overwhelmed by storm water and power outages; a power grid that is susceptible to cascading failure. We also have dams and bridges on the brink of failure.

    What both lack in common are solutions and the will to pay for improvement. To fix both, we need stronger economies and a people willing to pay the shot. Puerto Rico has the extra special challenge of having been exploited by corporate interests, ignored by Congress, and mismanaged by local government.

    We need a Marshall plan to rebuild our own country - Puerto Rico included, But we don't have the will to do it.

    Puerto Rico, before and after Maria, is a harbinger - the canary in the coal mine. Ignore it at our own risk.

  57. @Cathy, Hopewell Junctions: What a great comment! Too many Americans are of the very mistaken idea that “it can’t happen here.” We are very ripe for a hostile takeover when (not if) our primary grids (telecommunications) are flooded and inoperable; our power is out and emergency services—military and civilian—are taxed to overloading because of lazy ideological indifference that led to yawning obsolescence. Crater-sized potholes on military and civilian runways won’t protect us. Drinking water gone to contamination and breathable air at a premium do not factor into a Trump administration and red-leaning Congress; they’re too busy passing legislation for corporations and the super rich. Last I checked, no corporation will shoulder a rifle or plot an air defense system. Or purify drinking water.

  58. PR,s infrastructure woes are the result of decades of mismanagement, corruption and incompetence. As a democracy elected officials represent people and both parties in PR are responsible for the utilities debacle. AND FOR THE FINANCIAL DISASTER THAT PRECEDED Maria, and was decades in the making. The question is what do we do now. There are good solutions: decentralizing water and electrical systems establishing individual home and small grid systems for both, would strengthen the systems resiliency and provide jobs and capacities that are sorely needed. An average home in PR could go off the grid entirely for $6,000 - at current solar system prices, in a uncompetitive and not massified market. Rain based water collection systems could provide 65% of the homes with their own water supplies for less than 1500 per houses - in fact before WW2 most homes had them. Off the grid systems would save PR hundreds of millions in distribution systems costs in rural and suburban homes - and reduce the systems vulnerability. It would also support the development of small business to install and maintain these autonomous utility homes, stimulating the economy. The hurricane has opened this historic opp to transform utility system. Will this happen? - no it won’t. Vested interests in centralized utilities will again win the political and economic game. PR will continue to rely on the most expensive and unsustainable utility system of the developed world. And the band will play on.

  59. Your conclusion is true, sadly, but know that the government will demand the money from the US. Just won't ever be spent on your sound suggestions.

  60. Puerto Rico is a real time exemplar of how we use the World Bank and International Monetary Fund to exploit the developing world. The comparisons with sub-Saharan Africa are eerily revealing. What we are seeing is capitalism and economic colonialism in action and it isn't pretty.

  61. But Jack, PR is American!!

    Trump bills himself as a genius developer. This was a great opportunity for him to show off his (ahem) skills.

    Problem is, these are brown people, the territory is doing poorly financially, and the Mayor said he needed to do more. Three strikes, and....as far as this 'president' goes, they can fall into the sea or die slowly of infections, or go uneducated... No value to their participation, amirite?

    Heck of a job, Donnie! You never intended to do any real good. Zinke's crony Montana electrical company, that internet lady who couldn't provide meals... sad.

  62. Puerto Rico needs a modern day "Marshall Plan" to rebuild infrastructure, businesses, and shelter.
    Donald Trump bragged that he was able to build a NY skating rink in no time and under budget years ago when no one had been able to do so. He delivered.
    He still brags that he's a builder and deal-maker extraordinaire. Puerto Rico should be his dream project to prove he's exactly the right man for this major re-building task. But it appears he's lost his touch.
    Providing life-saving electricity, safe water, and modern sewer systems should be funded before one penny is spent on a useless wall on the Mexican border.

  63. Yes, the easiest start would be to follow the example already set in Vermont by Green Mountain Power, a company created to provide Vermonters with natural gas but one that unlike the US at large has moved into the 21st century with solar power, battery storage, and heat pump technology.

    The Times had a report on GMPs program to provide those three technologies at housing for low-income people and it works. The Natural Resources Defense Council should learn about GMP.

    There is more that could be done if there were federal programs to support the move to renewable energy. If there were support available, one or more locations in Puerto Rico might be able to follow West Palm Beach Florida example. West Palm Beach turned to Danish Babcock & Wilcox to design and build the first Solid Waste to Electricity plant in the USA, the first using the technology employed here in my own Swedish city.

    Babcock & Wilcox has the three most advanced plants known to me, Gärstad in Linköping SE, CopenHill in Copenhagen DK, and SWA in West Palm Beach. It may be that Puerto Rico's waste collection system does not at present meet the standards required by those systems. NRDC could look into that question.

    Only-NeverInSweden.blogspot.com (pictures of the 3 systems)
    Dual citizen US SE

  64. This Administration squandered the opportunity to rebuild PR's grid from the ground up as a self-contained pilot project.

    It is experience and competence that we as a nation will need desperately in the very near future.

  65. An article about Kentucky describes their public water system as almost identical to that in Puerto Rico -- leaky pipes that lose 50% of the good water and let in bad stuff. And Kentucky didn't have a hurricane.

    Isn't there a process where they coat the insides of the pipes with something that makes them watertight again instead of replacing them?

  66. He threw rolls of paper towels at them, and they are still not grateful.

  67. Whether it's the Puerto Rican diaspora, the relocation of the Cape Hatteras lighthouse or the movement of residents from coastal Alaska or coastal Louisiana inland, climate change is altering and will continue to alter our relationship with the littoral regions which hold about 40% of our population on 10% of our land (excluding Alaska).

    Costs will escalate in lockstep with stronger and more frequent climate events. Nature bats last.

  68. We bought 2009 retired full time 2013. Last July we did a water teste on our drinking water and had high levels of bacteria. We got water report from AAA and was confused how they do test as we knew it was bad. Can't blame Maria on the issues. It's been slowly going down hill. We have a water plant in our community gates unlocked and I am not sure if it's working and I have told them and the town mayor about it. Nothing done.

  69. My perfectly healthy great aunt who had retired to Puerto Rico got a minor cut on her foot in her hurricane damaged home. I attended her funeral on Sunday at her old congregation in Brooklyn, 3 weeks after the infected cut killed her. The hospital did not have the resources to treat It. We could not have a service in PR.

    The politics of PR is a mess, but the people there are still Americans in distress.

  70. I'm so sorry for your loss. This country is falling apart at the seams and Congress hasn't the will to fix it. How many more have to needlessly die? I suppose it would take a hurricane in Washington

  71. The island's total infrastructure needs to be rebuilt, from the ground up, and this transformation will take years. Puerto Rico has always been a prime target for hurricanes, as are many other islands in the Antilles. Both Florida coasts have been ravaged by hurricanes over decades as well as the Gulf Coast states and Georgia and the Carolinas.

    The new budget proposal should prioritize the needs of American citizens at risk of natural disasters instead of allocating billions for military aid that is unnecessary. Power grids, highways, electricity and food supplies should take precedent over tanks, choppers and war planes. The US arsenal is potent enough without adding billions of money that could and should be best spent on the redevelopment of the lives and communities of American citizens.

  72. Not one penny to the PR government. The US offered aid for their bankrupt island long before Maria, but stipulated oversight. PR said no. They should no longer be a US territory - government is corrupt to the core. Cannot be fixed from outside - it's an inside job and too many billions have been squandered.

  73. Puerto Rico needs not money but real sustainable wealth by becoming a real state and ending this disgraceful colonial arrangement.

  74. Very good article. Too many are simply jumping on the anti-Trump bandwagon, being led by the idiot San Juan mayor who is desperately running for governor and doing all the grandstanding she can. But Puerto Rico's problems began long before she was born. Truthfully, the place is a disaster of generational mismanagement and corruption.

    I remember traveling and working on the island for three decades starting back in the '80s, covering the entire island. The people are wonderful, the place is a disaster.

    The fact that it lies in the direct path of hurricane alley means it will only continue to be decimated by yearly storms. If people want to live in places such as these, like New Orleans, then they should be required to take care of themselves and not a continual resupply from those who choose to live in less dangerous locales. It may be a tropical paradise when not being destroyed by the hurricane du jour. But it also should not be the responsibility of others to keep rescuing them simply because they choose to live in harm's way. The island is a mess and was bankrupt long before there was a president Trump in office. And once again, one more administration is doing its best to rescue this island "nation" from themselves. How long before we say enough already?

  75. Did you say they wanted $94 billion?????? What a lot of nerve. They've already proved they can't handle money. Perhaps the governor could tell us what 10,000 people working for the power company and 10,000 working for the water utility actually do. Hasn't Puerto Rico always been in the path of hurricanes?

  76. Puerto Rico is apart of America even if it is "only a territory". Because of incompetent federal government help the MAINLAND is also without critical products e.g. for Hospitals. I have been thinking for months that Puerto Rico needs a truly innovative rebuilding because Global Warming is here to stay; The GOP has it's head in the sand and is hellbent on ignoring all warnings of the looming climate disaster. What about next year's Hurricane? Any conventional rebuilding will just be destroyed again. Why can't intelligent people run for Government because the ignorant are just costing us time and money.

  77. Puerto Rico will never, as long as Donald Trump is the “president,” get a dime towards the staggering sum required to get it up and running.

    The problem for American-Puerto Ricans (special emphasis on “American”) is that neither Trump nor his “base” considers these destitute people “real Americans,” as Sarah Palin so viciously put it on the campaign trail in 2008. These people, ravaged and savaged by Hurricane Maria, are thought, by Washington and “Flyover Country” to be un-American and not worthy of taxpayer aid. Factor into this intolerance the racism that Trump and Congress feel toward Hispanics in general (Mexico and The Wall, e.g.) and there was never a care for Puerto Rico’s catastrophe in the abomination that is Trump’s 2019 budget. If a red-heavy Congress could dig in its heels about promised disaster aid for (blue) New Jersey (remember Hurricane Sandy?), why should a far-off island of brown people matter? It seems that only Texas and other Gulf Coast states require federal disaster assistance, but even then, minority neighborhoods (Hurricane Katrina, anyone?) are bypassed for (white) upscale residential areas first.

    Under Trump, America is a big loser because it doesn’t provide citizens with the means of repairing grievous losses.

  78. But I thought Trump throwing rolls of paper towels at the citizens of Puerto Rico solved everything? Maybe if he goes back with one of those t-shirt shooting guns ... oh, wait, those aren't the kinds of guns he likes to throw billions of dollars at.

  79. The writer of this article is totally uninformed about Puerto Rico. Water in PR was high quality until the hurricane. Nobody ever got sick because of the water. Moreover, for all of those uninformed readers, be careful: the island is a laboratory and example of what's going on and will become the mainland. Other countries already have a much better quality of life and infrastructure than the United States. Puerto Rico is a blatant example of the aging infrastructure and political and civic corruption of the mainland.

  80. I thought Trump had cleaned up the floods and all after the hurricane. Didn't he toss the people lots of rolls of paper towels?

  81. For the last fifty or so years Puerto Rico has been living on bandages, helping its corrupt political class stay afloat. Globalization destroyed the economic miracle the U.S. so proudly used as propaganda against communism in the fifties and sixties. Once the Cold War ended Puerto Rico's use as the " Shining star of the Caribbean" ended as well.

    No one in Washington knows how keeping Puerto Rico serves its national interests, how ever no one knows what to do with this territory acquired in 1898. Therefore Congress prefers to ignore it, keeping it afloat with federal funds and looking the other way.

    What we now have is a territory, or colony, take your pick, that is heavily dependent on Federal funds for its functioning. Roughly half of its population lives on federal handouts, a condition that has created a psyche of dependency that permeates all social clases, specifically its political class, primarily those wanting statehood.

    Breaking away from this syndrome is almost imposible, after all who wants to kill the goose who lays the golden eggs?

  82. Puerto Rico should just declare itself to be a military base. Then, the money would roll in with no accountability and no end in sight.

  83. Folks can harp about "Disinvestment" all they want. Ms. Panditharatne doesn't mention corruption, incompetence and mismanagement. Shouldn't that be a big part of the conversation? Interesting omission.

    No doubt PR is a mess and urgently needs help. A lot of help. But we also need to ensure those billions of dollars are used correctly, not just dumped out of Air Force One as it flies over the island. Seems to me now is the perfect time to talk about the bigger picture...finally.

  84. Like how FEMA hired a contractor who provided a few thousand meals instead of millions, while skimming the profits?

    Obama cleaned up FEMA, but it appears Republicans are more about taking money from people to give to their rich buddies and donors, and the military.

  85. One writer said that PR's are American citizens. This is in name only as they can not vote. Also, PR's pay no U.S. income tax. Why should the U.S. then pay for infrastructure? Their taxes went to the PR government which squandered it, putting the island near BK. PR's need to help themselves through hard struggle before demanding handouts from the U.S.

  86. The people of Puerto Rico are American citizens. When they move to the mainland because life is unsafe in PR, I encourage them to register and vote. Vote against Trump and the GOP who do not want to give Puerto Rico what it needs to recover.

  87. Building a new, storm proof infrastructure for Puerto Rico is a Federal Government obligation exactly how? PR has a nationalized utility and has steadfastly resisted all attempts or suggestions to privatize it and bring private capital and accountability to the utility in order to protect patronage, subsidies, and cronyism. Now it has come home to roost and we get a bill for $18 billion? Tell me how and why the Federal Government should pay for this without demanding privatization and decontrol of this critical sector as a quid pro quo for the aid?

  88. The issue is not whether Puerto Rico needs rebuilding, but who should pay for it. The government and government owned electric utility have been beset by corruption and inefficiency for decades. I don't know why the taxpayers in Ohio (for example) should be subsidizing those in Puerto Rico.

    Provide similar levels of federal disaster relief to all areas affected by hurricanes, but beyond that, let the local citizens decide and pay for rebuilding.

  89. Congress should provide incentives to help residents of PR relocate to the mainland. This could be in the form of temporary rental assistance, job training, and ESL classes. The local elected officials have demonstrated their utter inability to govern and to think that they will be handed $94 billion to mismanage is just a pipe dream. Resettling people would be much less costly than trying to rebuild a broken down island at taxpayer expense.

  90. Does the phrase "good money after bad" ring any bells for you?

  91. It is unconscionable the position POTUS has taken on Puerto Rico.

  92. Puerto Rico needs an American president who knows the islanders are Americans rather than "the other."

  93. Give Puerto Rico their independence. Let them rebuild their own country. Puerto Rico is not exploited by America; PR is exploiting the American taxpayer who have subsidized PR for decades with food stamps and no federal taxes.

  94. The graphic for this article is extremely appropriate. I am a healthcare provider in a busy, acute Level 1 trauma center and one of the ongoing headaches from the painfully delayed recovery efforts are shortages of "American-made" basic medical materials and pharmaceuticals manufactured in Puerto Rico. The shortages have led to my facility's pharmacy rationing essential drugs (lidocaine, potassium chloride, and milrinone all come to mind) as well as changing the way we administer certain medications (like antibiotics) because normal saline (normal saline!!) is in short supply.

    The current administration has proven itself inefficient and ineffective with responding to normal, non-disastrous events, so it's no surprise that disaster relief efforts have stalled. However, I find it particularly infuriating that mainland areas affected by last year's hurricane season are on their way to recovery, when PR is still struggling. Everyone suffers as a result.

  95. If you had an honest government in PR, one not dominated by left wing ideologues with sticky fingers you would't be suffering. 70 billion would buy a lot of supplies and infrastructure repair but you let your local government squander it. It's been going on for 50 years but I'm sure it's President Trump's fault. BTW most people would think a 70 billion shortfall to be a pretty abnormal, disastrous event, unless you were stupid enough to keep electing thieves to govern you.

  96. "The mass movement of Puerto Ricans to the mainland after last fall’s hurricanes may provide one of the first examples of a large-scale climate migration in the Americas." - Oh, Please! As an expat to the mainland I can tell you that the MAIN reason for the migration that increased after the effects of both hurricane Irma and Maria resides in the realm of ECONOMICS. Looking for better employment opportunities. I'm one of them, now retired from the NYCTA and still living in the mainland. Many from my immediate family live here, with great careers, one of them with NASA. There were MORE Puerto Ricans living in the mainland than in the island before Maria hit. It's no secret that the Island's economy began its death spiral after Pres. Clinton signed the demise of the 936 of the U.S. Tax code. Local administrations had been borrowing Peter to pay Paul, acting as if nothing was happening, and the debt could be just kicked down the road forever. And, as it's pointed out, disinvestment in the island's infrastructure put a majority of the nails in this coffin. It was a disaster just waiting to happen, but everyone was just crossing their fingers wishing it didn't. Yet, it did, worse than anyone expected. But, anyone living in reality could see what was going to happen. The morning of the hurricane I asked my younger sister who lives in the island: "Do you have enough food and water to last for a LONG time?" The rest is history. The Pipper has come to collect.

  97. That's a nice story asking for a few billion dollars. The problem, however, will not be fixed until the Puertorriqueños choose to vote out the kleptocrats.

  98. Turn the entire island into one giant Disney resort, it will pay for itself in no time and who wouldn't want to live in the happiest place on earth?

  99. Puerto Ricans need to take more control of their destiny by ending their long tolerance for waste, corruption and incompetence at all their levels of their utterly dysfunctional government. The massive underreporting of deaths from Maria, the revelation of their refusing free aid from US utilities in favor hiring a 3 person firm from Whitefish, Montana at incredible cost; the list goes on and on.

  100. Puerto Rico has a government that is corrupt to the core for many decades, really since its formation. Corruption destroys the ability of any state/nation to have a positive developmental impact on its populace. The number one way to steal is through public projects and government initiatives, especially disaster relief programs.
    The more money thrown at Puerto Rico, simply the more will go into the politician's pockets getting nothing done. The territory should be put under Marshall law until the rebuild is completed, which will take at least a decade. Any thing short of that is a joke.

  101. How about using this horror constructively? As we rebuild Puerto Rico demand a local government that institute realistic economic policies.

    Throwing your money at a profligate group of officials will not achieve any future for the population with the exception of the worst among us.

  102. Good article .The Puerto Rico power authority bought dirty cheap oil to power the power plants The plants polluted the residents and schools .The EPA citied the authority many times Even after being sited the authority continued buying the cheap oil

  103. They also bought wind power that couldn’t withstand a hurricane.

  104. When Puerto Ricans pay federal income taxes, the U.S. mainland will have some sympathy for their plight. Why should American taxpayers bail them out of the fiscal and physical mess that they brought on themselves with political corruption and substandard building practices? Until they pay their fair share, they have reaped the rewards of their own vote against being a real part of the U.S. You cannot demand services and compassion if you do not contribute to those who you demand provide for your relief.

  105. Ditto for the US Virgin Islands. Why doe the US tax payers keep bailing out people who fundamentally won't change their dysfunctional political and administrative systems. This is akin to foreign aid that kept filling the pockets of corrupt offcials the world over for a century. Living in a cliamte of total corruption and digcusted helpless bystanders breeds more waste and fraud. Don't blame it on climate change, blame on "no change" of decades of ingrained corruption culture.

  106. Puerto Rico deserves autonomy to determine their own destiny and ought to pursue independence and be a free nation.

    Depending on the mainland is modern-day colonialism and clearly does not work in times of need. #LibrePuertoRico!

  107. The implication of a lot of these comments is that, above and beyond the devastation of maria, Puerto Rico got itself into its economic mess. Granted, it probably helped but the U.S. treating it like a colonial step-child for since it became a U.S. territory is a major contributor. A prime example: the Jones Act, which requires cargo between U.S. ports be carried only by U.S. registered ships manned by American crews. Passed during World War I to strengthen the U.S. shipping industry when U-boats were endangering our merchant fleets, it's been strangling the Puerto Rico economy for many years. At the least, we need to give them a break and let them grow their economy. In the meantime, we should help them the way we help the one percent.

  108. I don’t think the one percent is billion. Have you forgotten they defaulted long before the hurricane? Who bailed them out then?

  109. Spending billions to correct decades of infrastructure mismanagement might be more palatable if there was a viable plan to ensure it doesn't fall back into disrepair. Address the root causes. If someone runs a car into the ground because of poor maintenance and driving habits, the solution isn't to buy that person a new car.

  110. Like New Orleans during Katrina with their inept, bumbling incompetent local "elected officials" blaming everyone but Christ on the cross for their utter malfeasance, here we have the same tired trope, except en Espanol. Until fools stop voting for slogans instead of voting for competence, they can find the culprits in their mirrors.

  111. I understand why people feel for those in PR. Pictures of kids and families without homes, living in hotels or other temporary housing. But it seems the NYTImes and some forget the fact that PR is corrupt to the core, material aid given by the US was still in warehouses as late as 3 weeks ago because of the inept government that only took care of their buddies. Only a third of the PR population pays any taxes (under the table is the slogan). The billions given in the past for assistance and infrastructure was never used for aid or infrastructure. And all their leaders want to do is blame the US, Trump, or both. Seriously?

    We'd be better off not to send one more penny, but instead, send in a council to take over for a year to re-instate some kind of laws, oust the 'leaders,' and train some of the citizens to re-build. But, PR wants no oversight, no meddling in their affairs; just money. No

  112. Try doing without power for a couple of days, let alone months. Try being victims of a buddy system that awards large contracts to people who take the profits and run.

    Blaming victims is wrong. Save your venom for the real perps, not the people they hurt.

  113. The real "perps" were in Congress 20 years ago that phased out the tax subsidies that made the PR economy go boom, back in the day.

    The Clinton Admin made a huge mistake. Now big pharm is gone from PR, even though America uses many more pills than back in the day.

  114. Increased rain is good for hydroelectric power.
    Increased cost ill increase conservation.
    Local solar power works well where there is no transmission lines.
    More self help and community assistance.

  115. Nobody has a problem identifying the problems. Getting the money to solve them is the hard part. That is a man-made problem. Hurricanes (if you don't include Climate Change) are not.

  116. Assuming storms will continue to be more voracious due to climate change, the devastation of Puerto Rico is the perfect reason to restart using solar and other green energy. The micro-grid system seems to be far more useful in a place that gets hammered by hurricanes. The grid system was old anyhow so the time is perfect for switching over and moving in the right direction - and one that doesn't add more fuel to global climate change.

  117. At one time Congress granted huge tax breaks to Companies that moved to PR, that was phased out under the Clinton Administration as "corporate welfare" came to the forefront. Big Pharm moved out and left behind a shattered economy.

    Throwing money at a systemic problem, never works.

  118. Yes - Puerto Rica needs more than bandages, and I suggest the residents of the country return home and assist in the clean-up and rebuilding of the destruction. We observe Texans, Mexicans, Canadians, Asians and many others who assist with rebuilding following catastrophic fires, hurricanes, earthquakes, and floods: the victims of adversity more often than not assist with the 'clean-up' and rebuilding? Come on Puerto Rico residents - why pack up and head for another locale and wail about your situation, adamantly refusing to return or assist in the rebuilding of your communities?

  119. Over 100,000 left for many reasons, but mostly to survive. Over 3 million stayed and helped with the cleanup, etc. FYI, as American citizens we can move anywhere within the U S A, without giving any reasons to anybody.

  120. Rebuilding Puerto Rico is not in question. But the best way to rebuild it requires a lot more input from residents.

  121. Perhaps we are looking at this situation in the wrong way. If we consider the issues we will all face with global warming—rising sea levels, more fierce storms, eroding coastlines, and challenges to traditional ways of life—Puerto Rico offers a test case for responding. We need to look past whether their civic institutions were properly managed, and recognize that all civic institutions will be significantly challenged by a warming world.

    Puerto Rico could be our prototyping platform. It can serve as an experimental place where micro solar grids and alternative methods of electricly-powered transportation systems can flourish. We can rethink our water systems to provide home filtration systems at low cost that use the same layers of sand that nature uses to clean water as it moves toward acquafers. Street lights can run on batteries recharged each day by sun and wind. These and other local, neighborhood solutions offer a path forward.

    Just because the past has failed does not mean that the future will. Puerto Rico needs our help because they are our fellow citizens. But let’s not lose an opportunity to learn better ways that will ultimately benefit us all.

  122. Puerto Rico is a giant welfare colony. It is plagued with corruption and incompetance at all levels of business and government. Prior to the storm, their infrastructure was failing from gross mismanagement. Crime is rampant. It was once so bad that the National Guard was upon in an attempt to suppress it.

    It’s lame economy is supported by tax incentives.

    A ground-up replacement of infrastructure should wait until their culture of crime, victimhood and corruption is corrected.

  123. And how many must die as a result of the wait?

  124. You give them roll after roll of paper towels--and they still complain!

  125. Going by many of these statements, it’s safe to say that racism and ignorance about U.S. colonialism and how it’s greatly contributed to the state of affairs in its colonies is alive and well across the land!

  126. Yes indeed, our POTUS recognized the problem and gave them paper towels. How humanitarian.

  127. The good times of the Marshall Plan are over. The USA isn't the indisputable superpower anymore -- for the simple reason it really isn't. It simply doesn't have the resources anymore.

    If Trump could simply pour US$ 90 billion to rebuild Puerto Rico, believe me, he would. The reason he doesn't is the United States simply doesn't have the money. That vulgar stunt of throwing paper towels to the public (as if the mainland was swimming in wealth and treausers) was just that: propaganda that would make even the Soviets (who were the masters of poor propaganda) laugh.

    Most of its GDP growth since 2008 has been in the financial sector, which is money that don't represent any concrete wealth, i.e. it's imaginary wealth. The USA cannot take those trillions out of circulation in the high frequency trade world to make it materialize into infrastructure in the real world. It will continue to build up its military, to sustain the dollar standard. The world is heading to WWIII.

  128. yes, instead of a 19th century band-aid + overland power lines, PR (+ all of the US) needs to have 21st century decentralized renewable power grids - much less vulnerable than a centralized (+ corrupt) authority.
    (Good luck with an administration that believes in coal + punishes solar small businesses)

  129. There are very large shanty communities in Puerto Rico which have become more or less legitimized over the years. These were built with no concern for safe building codes and, from what I read, usually just tapped into the power lines illegally for electricity, I don't recall details on water and sewer services, but they would probably not be quite legal either.
    These shanty communities were a ticking time bomb and the idea of being able to use an established chain of ownership and property rights just isn't possible.
    How can FEMA pay for repairs to a house that technically wasn't legal, ownership can't be proven and would it be right to restore the illegal utility connections? And at the same time there are loud demands that it be done.
    Shame on the government of Puerto Rico for allowing this. They are going to have to come up with some decent solutions for managing the island better.
    Shame on people saying the disarray is all because of failures by the current president - this has been brewing a long time.

  130. Perhaps if PR were forced to sink or swim on its own, instead of being continually bailed out by hardworking American taxpayers, then it would invest in its own improvement on a continual basis. The way to do that would be for the USA to let go of PR and let it be a nation of its own, to deal with success and failure like all other adult nations. Then maybe, just maybe, PR will see the failings of the USA's diseased altruistic quasi socialist+capitalist amalgam, and choose to show the world what laissez-faire capitalism can do for a small island with few natural resources.

  131. "To accomplish that and other rebuilding needs, Puerto Rico had sought $94.4 billion in total disaster aid in November. That included nearly $18 billion to rebuild the power grid — nine times what Congress has provided."

    Americans want to help the people of Puerto Rico, just not the amount the leaders of Puerto Rico have asked for. The author appears to think money grows on trees and the citizens of all the states who do pay 'federal income taxes' should be happy to share their money with folks that don't pay these taxes. In addition, the leaders of Puerto Rico and their utilities have demonstrated an inability to manage a budget or the foresight to invest in their energy grid. Why should the American taxpayer 'trust' the Billions handed over to Puerto Rico won't be wasted as so many billions before?


  132. imperative! but first dismiss the complacent leadership that let things decay so badly.

  133. Puerto Ricans are Americans and pay taxes. Sadly, this "administration" and its "amen corner" in the GOP consider them less than citizens and among those who somehow don't deserve the protections and privileges of our Constitution (a large group indeed, to use Romney's "47%" number).
    Eighty years ago, the government of Germany and its apologists had a word for what our GOP considers Puerto Ricans. You saw where that word led, and what resulted in Germany in 1945.
    We go there at our national peril.