Internal EPA documents reveal knowledge of “imminent threat” to public for decades; EPA refuses to use its full authority to protect communities

(SAN JUAN, P.R. – October 24, 2016)  The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) admission of guilt today in a story in El Nuevo Dia that most of Puerto Rico’s municipal landfills are not complying with federal safety rules is long overdue, but they continue to mislead the public in an attempt to evade its own responsibility for ignoring the “imminent threat to human health and the environment” these toxic sites have posed for decades.

“The EPA admitted guilt today that most landfills are out of compliance, but the real guilt is they have known for decades that these landfills have been threatening the public and has done little or nothing about it,” said Hiram J. Torres Montalvo, co-founder of Puerto Rico Limpio.  “The EPA needs to stop misleading covering up its neglect through front page press releases and start immediately closing these landfills that are a danger to our communities.”

The EPA continues to claim the landfills cannot be closed because of the fiscal crisis and not enough available landfill airspace.  This is nothing more than an attempt to evade responsibility and cover up an epic failure to protect human health and environment.  In contrast to the EPA’s claims, Torres Montalvo pointed to a 4-point plan to solve the landfill crisis that was submitted by Puerto Rico Limpio to  the Congressional Task Force on Economic Growth in Puerto Rico on September 2, 2016.

“It is false and unacceptable to tell the public that the EPA doesn’t have the authority to immediately close toxic landfills, or that immediate closure is not ‘practical’,” he said.  “There is more than enough available landfill airspace today at compliant sites to take in Puerto Rico’s solid waste.  Our 4-point plan can be implemented today, and it focuses on: 1) revoking the permitting authority of the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board (EQB); 2) closing toxic dumps immediately; 3) repurposing closed landfills for conversion to better uses, like clean, sustainable energy alternatives like solar and wind generation; and 4) adopting a plan for full compliance, including the creation of transfer stations and partnerships with recycling companies.”

“The EPA’s focus on recycling and composting is a farce and a distraction to cover up their negligence,” Torres Montalvo charged.  “Their policy has been a failure because they have allowed massive law breaking and non-compliance to go on for decades.  Recycling rates in Puerto Rico are less than 10% when the national average of 35%.  Why is this?  Because the EPA’s approach is a disastrous failure.  Thanks to EPA’s negligence with enforcement of federal law, it is now cheaper to illegally dump trash in non-compliant landfills where the per-ton tipping fee is much lower than it is to recycle.  If we closed these non-compliant landfills and trash was forced to be disposed of legally and safely, the costs of disposing recyclables would go up and a recycling market would flourish.  This is basic economics, and EPA Regional Administrator Judith Enck has ignored this reality for her entire term in office.”

“The people of Puerto Rico have waited long enough for the EPA to close toxic landfills,” Torres Montalvo concluded.  “This has dragged on for more than 20 years and our patience is at an end.  No more excuses.  End this injustice, end this imminent threat to the public and begin immediate closures.”

To read Puerto Rico Limpio’s submission to the Congressional Task Force on Economic Growth in Puerto Rico (in English), visit: http://puertoricolimpio.org/wp content/uploads/2016/09/PRLimpio-Submission-to-Task-Force.pdf