HOW THE EPA CONTINUES TO POISON PUERTO RICO

Unenforced Orders, Worthless Consent Decrees and No Fines for Lawbreakers 

(SAN JUAN, P.R. – April 27, 2017) Puerto Rico Limpio released a new report today after a painstaking investigation of EPA documents obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) which belie the Agency’s public claims of great progress towards closing 12 toxic, non-compliant municipal landfills in Puerto Rico. The report reveals that, in fact, the EPA has known that 19 out of the island’s 29 landfills are illegal open dumps, and continue to operate despite openly violating federal law.

“The report reveals yet more evidence of criminal neglect by the EPA,” said Hiram J. Torres Montalvo, co-founder of Puerto Rico Limpio. “Recent actions in Toa Alta and Santa Isabel are simply an elaborate cover-up by the EPA to hide 8 years of bureaucratic ineptness and criminal negligence.”

The new report, entitled “How the EPA Continues to Poison Puerto Rico”, had a number of key findings based on EPA documents and other evidence posted online with the report today:

  • No evidence was found that any of the still-open landfills “facing action” or consent decrees have been brought into compliance over the last decade.  In fact, all of them continue to break federal laws and continue to pose an imminent threat to the environment and to the public.
  • A letter in 2011 from the Obama Administration to the EQB under Governor Luis Fortuño warned against being too hasty in closing toxic landfills, making lighter enforcement a policy of the EPA.
  • In the list of 12 landfills “under EPA action,” the EPA was found to have systematically failed to follow through, letting deadlines pass repeatedly, allowing operators to ignore benchmarks and endlessly postpone even minimal improvements.
  • The EPA knew of the environmental harm and persistent threat for years even while issuing consent decrees and administrative orders, and never immediately suspended operations at any landfill despite the danger. The most recent example was the administrative order issued against Toa Alta landfill on April 11 of this year, which detailed extreme violations of RCRA and multiple iterations of the “imminent endangerment to human health and the environment” but allowed the landfill to continue receiving and dumping waste in unlined cells through the end of the year.

“Recent comments by certain individuals claiming they do not have the regulatory authority to close, that a lock won’t work, a transfer station cannot be built or the fiscal situation prevents closure, is simply perpetuating an environmental crime against their fellow citizens,” said Torres Montalvo.

To read “How the EPA Continues to Poison Puerto Rico”, visit: http://puertoricolimpio.org/how-the-epa-continues-to-poison-puerto-rico/?lang=en

AN OPEN LETTER TO THE SENATE OF PUERTO RICO: WE DEMAND A REAL DEBATE ON SOLID WASTE AND THE PROBLEMS OF TOXIC LANDFILLS ON THE ISLAND

The Capitol of Puerto Rico (Capitolio de Puerto Rico) in San Juan, Puerto Rico

Esteemed Senators:

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.

Sincerely,
HIRAM TORRES MONTALVO
Co-founder, Puerto Rico Limpio

“WE NEED ACTION, NOT TALK ON TOXIC LANDFILLS”

Why bother complying when there is no enforcement of the law?
Puerto Rico Limpio responds to Puerto Rico Government

(SAN JUAN – June 13, 2016)  In response to statements by the Government of Puerto Rico, the citizen action group Puerto Rico Limpio said that only full enforcement of federal and local laws will solve the toxic landfill crisis in Puerto Rico.

“Focusing on recycling has failed Puerto Rican communities.  The results are terrible. Our recycling rates are less than 10%,” said Hiram Torres Montalvo, co-founder of Puerto Rico Limpio.  “There is a simple reason for this failure: why recycle when a municipality can dump all their trash in a cheap, non-compliant landfill for half the cost or less?  The landfills have no incentive to participate.   And when the EPA rules are not enforced, it makes no sense to comply.”

Nelson Santiago, the chief solid waste official for the Government of Puerto Rico, was quoted in today’s El Nuevo Dia as saying that following the law “is a big challenge for the operators” of the toxic landfills and suggesting that the public is to blame for producing trash.

“The law is clear: every landfill must have liners, trash covers, and leachate controls or it’s an illegal site.  This can’t be any simpler,” Torres Montalvo said.  “Most of the 27 landfills in Puerto Rico have none of these requirements and nobody is doing anything about it.  If the mayors don’t care about the law, and the Puerto Rico government doesn’t care about the law, and Judith Enck, the Administrator for Region 2 of the EPA doesn’t want to enforce the law, then where is this big challenge for the landfill operators?  If there are no consequences for decades of contaminating the groundwater, the ocean, marine resources, the land and the air, then how can you blame the victims in these communities instead of all the agencies who refuse to do their job and enforce the law?”

Torres Montalvo said the only focus for solving the landfill crisis is real enforcement or the contamination will only worsen.

“After decades of contamination allowed by the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board and the EPA, it’s clear that the policy of doing nothing has created this crisis, not a lack of recycling.  Our landfills still have no liners, no leachate controls, no gas monitoring and no trash covers.  They are illegal sites that violate local and federal laws.  The ADS response and EPA’s complicit behavior is an attempt to distract and confuse the public from their own failures to safeguard our communities,” Torres Montalvo said.

“Judith Enck has another Flint developing in her region.  When is she going to act?” Torres Montalvo concluded.

Links to case studies of toxic landfills that the EPA has allowed to break the law for decades:

TOA ALTA            VEGA BAJA          CULEBRA             ARROYO              BARRANQUITAS                FLORIDA

 

LETTER FROM BARRANQUITAS

Several residents from Barranquitas have warned us in emails and Facebook messages about the conditions at the landfill in their municipality.  Our co-founder Hiram Torres Montalvo has spoken about the landfill crisis to Radio Cumbre 1470 AM, which broadcasts to the central region, and the host of the show has been emphatic that we should look into the Barranquitas landfill.

We visited the landfill and talked to some residents.  This is what we found out:

The Barranquitas landfill is perched overlooking the Estadio de Barranquitas and it is next to the Cancha Municipal Bajo Techo, which is currently “closed for renovations”.   A residential street goes right up to the landfill’s entrance gate, and local signs indicate the landfill’s entrance is part of a School Zone.  But there is only a dirt road for the frequent garbage trucks taking trash up the hill to the active trash pile.

We also did a little research in Barranquitas.  In 2000, the Puerto Rico Solid Waste Management Authority (ADS, in Spanish) issued a Regional Plan that included the closure of Barranquitas landfill.  “The landfill for the town of Barranquitas was put in place to serve the mountain area and was expected to remain in operation for decades. Instead it will have to be closed in 2003. This decision came about after long negotiations between the residents of Barranquitas and the ADS.  When the Barranquitas landfill was in the hands of the municipal government, it was seriously mismanaged and caused serious pollution problems and it is therefore unfit for expansion into a regional facility, says Verdor Barranquiteno, a Barranquitas-based environmental group,” a media story said in 2000.  ADS said at the time it had negotiated an agreement with the Puerto Rican Environmental Quality Board (EQB) and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to close this landfill because it was not complying with federal rules sixteen years ago.

Of course, the landfill was never closed.  We saw a lot of garbage trucks entering and leaving when we visited.  Barranquitas has apparently never been compliant with federal law, because in April 2016, EQB documents showed that Barranquitas was among 18 landfills showing “grave deficiencies”, and specifically had no leachate controls. 

The residents of Barranquitas deserve the right to know why the agreement between ADS, EQB and EPA to close the landfill in 2000 was never complied with.  They deserve to know why the federal and local authorities knew this landfill has been unsafe for at least 16 years and they let it operate illegally anyway.  This is a rural community, without the resources of the big cities to fight the kind of injustice and environmental discrimination they are suffering from the government of Puerto Rico and the EPA.

We will continue to report what we find out about this threat to the families of Barranquitas.

 

 

PUERTO RICO LIMPIO LAUNCHES INTERACTIVE MAP OF PUERTO RICO’S UNSAFE LANDFILLS: “THE TOXIC LIST”

(San Juan, Puerto Rico) On the same day the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced that Carmen Guerrero of Puerto Rico will be the new Caribbean director for the Agency, the multi-sectoral citizen’s group Puerto Rico Limpio launched an interactive map on its website today, profiling “The Toxic List.”

“The toxic landfills should be the first order of business for Carmen Guerrero to address,” Torres Montalvo said.  “The EPA also must explain to these communities why it is allowing so many landfills that have been toxic for decades to continue operating today.”

The map is designed to be used as a citizens’ tool for learning details about each of the municipal landfills in Puerto Rico that have been publicly identified by authorities as operating in violation of regulations.

“We have relied on public information, government documents, news media and members of the public in building this citizen’s action tool for the people of Puerto Rico,” said Hiram Torres Montalvo, co-founder of Puerto Rico Limpio.  “The residents around these landfills have the right to know about violations we have documented, and the dangers they pose to them,” he said.

The places currently profiled on the map are the municipal landfills in Añasco, 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.

The map includes vital information about each landfill from documents from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board, and major news articles in which violations have been documented.  The profiles also include information that has been shared with Puerto Rico Limpio by local residents living near the landfills since the organization launched its safe landfills campaign in April.

“The Interactive Map will be continuously updated to reflect new developments, and we municipalities, residents and concerned citizens to share new information that will help these communities have all the facts about these unsafe landfills,” Torres Montalvo said.

The Interactive Map in English can be accessed here.

To know more about Puerto Rico Limpio, its mission and important information about unsafe and non-compliant landfills, visit: PuertoRicoLimpio.org, Puerto Rico Limpio  on Facebook, and/or follow us on Twitter at: @PRLimpioOrg