Three senators of the minority bloc, calling themselves the “Next Generation Leadership Team,” recounted their recent trip to the nation’s capital to ask for federal assistance, the details of which they revealed at a press conference Wednesday morning at the Palms at Pelican Cove.
The trio of senators, Nereida “Nellie” Rivera-O’Reilly, Neville James and Terrence “Positive” Nelson, held the conference to discuss the trip, promote their legislative record, and to show constituents that they’re pushing for a more transparent government – free from "corruption."
The NGL team went to the nation’s capital from Oct. 24–26, where they met with five federal agencies, in hopes of finding ways to secure additional financing to help the territory for the energy and environmental crises they said are occurring. The senators also met with the Department of Justice to discuss ongoing investigations of corruption in the territory.
“The purpose of our trip: of course, citing our energy crisis, citing the condition of our economy and the government corruption,” Nelson said. “We felt it necessary to go beyond our physical borders for assistance.”
The senators met with the departments of Commerce, Energy, and Human Services; the Environmental Protection Agency; Delegate to Congress Donna M. Christensen and the Ambassador to Venezuela. The visit revealed that there is money that the V.I. government has missed and is not going after: funding they say, would greatly help the territory.
“The territory continues to forego opportunities for federal funding because instead of going for funding on a need basis, it chooses to go for consolidated block grants,” Rivera-O’Reilly said.
Rivera-O’Reilly pointed out that there is more funding available, like revolving grants and loans with extremely low interest rates. She said the only thing the government needs to do, which starts with the territory’s executive branch, is come up with an extensive “state plan” to allow the territory to apply for millions of dollars.
Nelson agreed, “There’s a willingness from the federal government to help us with our plight, and we believe some of the fruits of our efforts are already being realized in our territory.”
One main point of discussion was the ongoing energy problem. The trio of senators was adamant that the territory needs to apply for additional grants and loans to begin tackling the problem of costly energy from the V.I. Water and Power Authority.
“We cannot afford the cost of electricity we are paying for today,” James said. “We need capital, liquid capital to subsidize the costs, and we need a new plan.”
In addition to seeking more funds, the senators met with the ambassador of Venezuela in hopes that they might reduce the price of oil to Hovensa; however, there is still some concern about convincing the state and federal government about receiving a possible discount.
The NGL team plans to push for the Executive Branch to draft a plan so that the territory can apply for additional funding to help with the energy crisis. They agreed that the process would likely take a year and cost upward of $500 million dollars but said that they feel it is absolutely necessary to begin the program right away.
The senators also met with the EPA to follow up on the environmental concerns that have been plaguing St. Croix, and were told there are plans to bring an EPA office to the island to mitigate concerns.
Nelson made it clear that they did not go to the capital to beg for money, but rather they wanted to ask for federal assistance because they believe the territory is entitled to aid.
“We don’t feel like we’ve gone to D.C. looking for handouts,” Nelson said. “We weren’t begging, we believe we are entitled to funding.”
The senators also wanted to ensure people that they are trying to do everything possible to remove "corruption in the government." They said that the Department of Justice has several ongoing investigations of government individuals, and agreed that something needs to be done to stop the rampant dishonesty.
“We feel the corruption is beyond our ability to put it in check, so we are not asking for federal takeover or receivership, but we sure are asking for federal intervention – federal assistance, it’s necessary,” Nelson said.
He added, “You’ve got numerous instances in which public officials are misusing funds. When people can move millions of dollars undetected, we need help. When the [V.I.] Legislature can be bombarded with the FBI and DOJ, we need help.”
The senators also informed the public they attended the Council of State Governments National Conference in Bellevue, Wash., where they learned about additional ways to improve infrastructure in energy, commerce and human resources.