Ten months after the approval of Law 5 that finally established a ban on the use and disposal of coal ash in Puerto Rico, the regulation that enables this governmental order has not yet been approved by the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) .
Now, leaders of communities affected by the toxic material demand that the DNER not delay the matter any longer and complete the process, before a new administration enters La Fortaleza in January 2021.
In an interview with La Perla del Sur, the spokesperson for the Salinas Environmental Dialogue Committee, Víctor Alvarado Guzmán, accused the DNER of dragging its feet and warned about the risks of delegating the final procedure to a new administration.
Their expressions come just hours before the DNER will hold another virtual public hearing this Thursday, November 5, in which it will collect comments on the proposed regulation.
The hearing, demanded for months by opponents of the operations of the AES coal plant in Guayama, will take place just 48 hours after the 2020 general elections and two months before the term of Governor Wanda Vázquez Garced ends.
“It is worrying that they have left this so late,” said Alvarado Guzmán. “The regulation is supposed to be approved by April 2. They have been violating the law for seven months, “he said.
“We have had conversations with the agency during these seven months, letting it know that this is important and must be approved. The technical staff did their job, but apparently those who are running the agency have not seen this as something urgent, “he added.
Law 5 was signed by the governor on January 2 and its regulations had to be approved within a period of no more than 90 days. At the close of this report, 307 days have elapsed without it being adopted.
Although the process may have been delayed due to the coronavirus emergency – which began on the island on March 15 – Alvarado Guzmán indicated that the regulation could be approved in summer, so it is “suspicious” that the process has taken so long.
“The technical analysis was done quickly. The first conversations we had with them took place in April and we know that in June the (draft) regulation was already in place, “he said.
Meanwhile, Alvarado Guzmán raised doubts about the reliability of both the candidates for governor and the resident police station of the New Progressive Party (PNP) and the Popular Democratic Party (PPD), on the issue of the ashes.
As he recalled, Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia was a lobbyist for AES in the legislature and Jenniffer González Colón received donations from executives of AES Corp. He also recalled that it was during the administration of Aníbal Acevedo Vilá when the ash deposit began in 11 municipalities of the country .
Regarding Carlos Delgado Altieri, he criticized his public expressions in a forum in Ponce where he said he was willing to negotiate the permanence of AES on the island, at least temporarily, if it changes its energy production to methane gas.
“We need this to be approved before the change of government comes, because we don’t know who will be there,” said the ecologist.
Alvarado Guzmán also pointed to the Trump administration’s agenda to eliminate regulations on ash handling in the United States and Puerto Rico, which could disrupt the progress made in the country on this issue.
“It should be remembered that AES Puerto Rico and other coal companies in the United States asked the EPA (Federal Environmental Protection Agency) for amendments to the federal regulation, and as part of those amendments was the one that AES was going to be allowed to return to. throw ashes all over Puerto Rico, ”he explained.
“If we allow the EPA to approve these amendments, by not having an approved regulation in Puerto Rico, it would open the doors for AES to again throw ashes in Puerto Rico,” he continued.
“I hope that it is not that, once again, (the DNER) is in collusion with AES and delaying the matter,” he added.
For his part, the spokesman for the Camp Against Coal Ashes in Peñuelas, José Manuel Díaz Pérez, stressed that the fight against coal ashes does not end with the approval of the regulations of Law 5.
In addition to criticizing the delay in the approval of the regulation, Díaz Pérez announced that the united front against the ashes will continue the fight – with whoever takes office in January – in search of the end of AES operations in Guayama.
“The law has been a significant advance in the fight, but it is not the end. This does not address the root problem, which is the burning of coal to produce electricity, ”said the community leader.
“It is necessary to achieve the closure of the plant and that justice be done to the communities that continue to suffer the effect of pollution in Guayama and in the other towns where ashes were deposited. They are still exposed, “he said.
In line with this, he called for the removal of the ashes buried throughout the country and the preparation of studies that quantify the impact that this toxic material has had on the health of those who have been exposed.
Projects presented by legislators of the Puerto Rican Independence Party in order to create an inventory of impacted places and carry out the corresponding health studies, were shelved for years by the leadership of the Chamber and the Senate during the administrations of Alejandro García Padilla and Ricardo Rosselló Nevares.
According to official AES reports, between 2004 and 2011 over 2 million tons of coal ash were transferred to the municipalities of Dorado, Toa Alta, San Juan, Juncos, Caguas, Arroyo, Guayama, Salinas, Santa Isabel, Coamo, Ponce and Mayagüez. Another million tons was disposed of between the Humacao and Peñuelas landfills.
“In Salinas there are 750 thousand tons of ash deposited on top of an aquifer, on which people depend for 100 percent of their livelihood. We are talking about 10 communities. At Ranchos Guayama de Salinas they are constantly breathing coal ash. And Salinas is just one example ”, declared Díaz Pérez.
“There is still a lot of work to do,” he insisted.