Today, the Senate will have its first debate about landfill policy in Puerto Rico, but we hope that it will really tackle what needs to be debated: the issue of toxic landfills on the Island. The issue at hand cannot be turned into a distraction which clouds the reality of a crucial question which affects many more than just a group responsible for heading up a campaign against the deposit of coal ash in a compliant landfill in Penuelas.
In today’s debate, I hope you will not forget the evidence provided by proven cases of illegal operations that have violated federal and Commonwealth laws in the toxic, non-compliant municipal landfills in Anasco, Arecibo, Arroyo, Barranquitas, Cabo Rojo, Cayey, Culebra, Florida, Guayama, Hormigueros, Isabela, Jayuya, Juana Diaz, Juncos, Lajas, Moca, Toa Alta, Toa Baja, Vega Baja and Yauco. These are municipal landfills that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has recorded as presenting “an imminent danger to human health and the environment”, poisoning the groundwater, the soil and the air in these communities and breaking almost every federal rule for landfill compliance that is in effect. Every one of these toxic landfills is open and operating right now as you meet in the Capitolio, and there has never been one single Independentista leader who has had any sympathy for these communities suffering from the pollution generated by these toxic landfills. I can say this, because Puerto Rico Limpio has been fighting to close these landfills without them providing any support. The debate which is to take place today should focus on getting a clear public policy about solid waste management.
This group which has been demonstrating should meet with the neighbors of Candelaria, next to the toxic landfill in Toa Baja, where the toxic contamination was documented just last month by the Puerto Rico and mainland U.S. media when Rep. Luis V. Gutierrez toured the area. Neither have Senator Maria de Lourdes Santiago nor Mayor Carmen Yulin ever been to the Toa Alta landfill neighborhood nor have they spoken to Connie Calise Citron. For years, Connie has watched the illegal mountain of unlined toxic trash grow bigger and bigger and the leachates pour out of the site and into the community. Given this situation, the neighbors have had to leave their houses being because the Government of Puerto Rico has abandoned all these communities who have suffered real contamination, real hardships, threats to their health, their drinking water and their quality of life. All of this has been documented. It would be terrible that today, while this session is taking place in the Senate, they continue to abandon all of these communities.
Puerto Rico Limpio has comprehensively documented the depth of the landfill crisis and proposed real policy solutions to the Congressional Task Force on Economic Growth in Puerto Rico. Our 4-point plan 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. Unfortunately, neither Maria de Lourdes Santiago and Carmen Yulin or their pro-Independence comrades have supported our efforts.
I join in continued solidarity with the 20 disadvantaged and forgotten communities all across Puerto Rico in urging the Senate to urgently include their suffering, and end what the EPA has called an imminent danger and threat to them, by closing the non-compliant and toxic landfills across the Commonwealth. Also, they should hold a real debate about solid waste management reform for Puerto Rico. If you abandon the thousands more who need to be defended, you will be only increasing the suffering of these people and allowing the danger around the toxic landfills in Puerto Rico to continue, transferring the bigger and more devastating costs into the future.
HIRAM TORRES MONTALVO
Co-founder, Puerto Rico Limpio