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
Long-delayed action fits EPA pattern of non-enforcement of judicial actions and orders on Puerto Rico landfills
(SAN JUAN, P.R. – April 25, 2017) – Puerto Rico Limpio today called the recent announcement of a settlement with the municipality and operator of Santa Isabel landfill “worthless” until it is actually enforced, something the EPA has failed to do in nearly every other such action for decades in Puerto Rico.
“We welcome this closure action on paper, but the EPA has rarely enforced them in Puerto Rico. A settlement is worthless until it’s enforced, and we’ll believe this one when we see it enforced,” said Hiram J. Torres Montalvo, co-founder of Puerto Rico Limpio.
“There is no reason to believe the Santa Isabel municipality will comply with the settlement since 19 out of 29 landfills operating today in Puerto Rico are not complying with EPA rules, orders or consent decrees,” Torres Montalvo added. “There were years of delay in the EPA taking this action, and only as a result of recent Congressional inquiry has the EPA begun to act. Unfortunately for the people of Santa Isabel, until this new settlement is enforced, the violations will continue, the dangers to the environment will be allowed, and no one will be held accountable. This is the pattern the EPA has followed in Puerto Rico for a decade.”
Torres Montalvo called on the U.S. Congress to look into all cases of unenforced settlements, consent decrees and administrative orders issued by the EPA against toxic landfills in Puerto Rico, and insisted that the administration of Governor Ricardo Rosselló and the new EPA administrator, Scott Pruitt, work together to undo the harm of the previous administrations’ negligence and move toward immediate enforcement of federal and local law against non-compliant landfills.
“It’s time to turn the page on failed policies and enforce the law in Puerto Rico immediately,” Torres Montalvo concluded. “Every closure order must be immediately enforced, and every toxic landfill’s gates must be locked today.”
In a joint letter to the EPA and Puerto Rican DNRA, Puerto Rico Limpio tells Pruitt and Vázquez Rivera that administrative orders and court filings are not enough
(SAN JUAN, P.R. – April 19, 2017) Today, Puerto Rico Limpio released a joint letter it sent to Administrator Scott Pruitt of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Secretary Tania Vázquez Rivera of the Puerto Rican Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNRA) asking them to use existing authority to immediately close all of Puerto Rico’s toxic municipal landfills.
Torres Montalvo reminded the officials that “in a letter to Puerto Rico Limpio late last year, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acknowledged that 19 of the island’s 29 landfills do not even meet the most basic federal requirements, making them illegal open dumps.” However, he noted, “only 12 of those landfills are under any form of action to close and none of them have been fully enforced yet. The result has been an environmental disaster across the island that continues to this day.”
“Recent actions taken by the EPA in Toa Alta and Santa Isabel are simply window dressing aimed at appeasing Puerto Rico Limpio and Congressional investigators. They are fake closures and judicial actions,” wrote Torres Montalvo.
The letter urged Pruitt and Vázquez Rivera to “work together to use your authority and close all of Puerto Rico’s toxic landfills immediately. Administrative orders and court filings have been filed and ignored for over a decade with no consequences,” Torres Montalvo wrote. “Additional paperwork is not the answer; putting a lock on the gates of Puerto Rico’s toxic landfills is,” he concluded.
To read the letter Puerto Rico Limpio sent to Administrator Pruitt and Secretary Vázquez Rivera, click here.
Puerto Rico’s leading newspaper, El Nuevo Dia, published an op-ed today by Puerto Rico Limpio co-founder Hiram Torres Montalvo in which he labeled the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)’s announcement of closure at the toxic landfill in Toa Alta “fake news.”
The truth, he wrote, is that Toa Alta will remain open, still receiving waste and still posing an imminent threat to the public and the environment. One thing is clear: the EPA and the Government of Puerto Rico have not used their authority to close any of the more than 70% of the Island’s landfills that are open and operating today, which violate the law and threaten our communities.
An Excerpt from: “Padlock the toxic landfills” by Hiram J. Torres Montalvo (April 13th, 2017)
EL NUEVO DIA:
…“The EPA claimed this order was shutting down the landfill and stopping them from accepting waste. But this was fake news. The action by the EPA did neither, and in fact, Toa Alta can continue to operate.”
… “The EPA estimates that up to 30,000 children and elderly living in Toa Alta face a heightened imminent danger to their health right now.”
…“The time for excuses is over. We can no longer blame former administrations for today’s mistakes. We can no longer simply go to Washington to ask for more Medicaid monies and promote statehood. The U.S. Congress and the Financial Oversight Board have spoken, and both want to see closure.”
To read the full article in El Nuevo Dia, click here.
Today, Puerto Rico Limpio released letters to members of the Congressional Task Force on Economic Growth in Puerto Rico, Resident Commissioner González, and the Financial Oversight and Management Board, which urged the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and Governor Rosselló to close Puerto Rico’s toxic municipal landfills.
“The EPA continues to intentionally deceive the Puerto Rican people by claiming they are closing 13 landfills,” said Hiram J. Torres Montalvo, co-founder of Puerto Rico Limpio, “We have written Congress and the Oversight Board to ask for their help in compelling the EPA and Governor Rosselló to ensure that these toxic landfills do get closed.”
“Neither the EPA nor the Puerto Rican Government are using their authority to close these toxic dumps,” said the group in its letter to the Congressional Task Force. “The Puerto Rican people can no longer suffer because officials refuse to enforce the preexisting law,” Torres Montalvo exclaimed.
“The closure of toxic landfills is important to Puerto Rico’s future. We urge that the responsible parties make the tough decisions needed to put locks on the gates of these landfills today,” said Torres Montalvo.
Garcia Padilla allowed Toa Alta to operate without permit from Environmental Quality Board; Puerto Rico Limpio Renews Calls for U.S. EPA and Governor Rosselló to lock the gates and shut toxic landfill down
(TOA ALTA, P.R. – April 12, 2017) – Puerto Rico Limpio condemned the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) for allowing the toxic Toa Alta landfill to remain open and operating despite documenting extensive criminal acts and the poisoning of Puerto Rico’s aquifers.
“The EPA has given a green light to Toa Alta to continue breaking the law,” said Hiram J. Torres Montalvo, co-founder of Puerto Rico Limpio. “This is sheer incompetence by EPA Region 2 and Caribbean director Carmen Guerrero. The EPA can close Toa Alta today, but they refuse to do it.”
The 53-page Administrative Order by the U.S. EPA revealed extensive details on how the EPA has known about the illegal conditions at Toa Alta landfill since 2004, but failed to use their authority to shut it down. Further, the EPA report reveals that former Governor Alejandro Garcia Padilla allowed the landfill to continue operating without an EQB permit. Unfortunately, the administration of Governor Rosselló appears to be following the footsteps of Garcia Padilla by not requiring a permit from Toa Alta, either.
The EPA findings are frightening:
- Toa Alta landfill is operating without a permit from the Government of Puerto Rico, and is classified as an “open dump” which is prohibited to operate under federal law.
- The landfill has no liner to protect groundwater from contamination and no controls on gas emissions which pose a threat of explosion and contain cancer-causing materials.
- With no inspection of waste entering the landfill, the EPA estimates about 30 million tons of hazardous household waste is currently in the ground and leaching toxic materials into the environment.
- Toa Alta generates about 4 million gallons of toxic leachates per year, which it discharges illegally into large ponds over unlined sinkholes, into the North Coast Limestone Aquifer, into the Rio de la Plata and tributaries, and threatens at least 16 PRASA and USGS water sources.
- The landfill has standing water which breeds mosquitos that can carry the Zika virus, and threatens more than 100 homes and businesses within mosquito flight range.
- The trash piles are so steep that EPA officials deemed some of them too dangerous to approach in order to measure them.
- The EPA estimates that up to 30,000 children and old people live in Toa Alta –nearly half the municipality’s population – and face a heightened danger from contaminates coming out of the landfill.
“We demand Governor Rosselló shut down Toa Alta, today,” said Torres Montalvo. “Allowing Toa Alta to continue to operate without a permit and in the face of incompetence at the EPA endangers the lives of all Puerto Ricans. Governor Rosselló can change that today. It would also send a signal to Washington and U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions that under Governor Rosselló, Puerto Rico follows the rule of law, and is befitting to become a state.”
Puerto Rico Limpio praises Oversight Board for recognizing landfills as “critical infrastructure”, calls on Governor Rosselló to close dumps and Resident Commissioner Gonzalez to show leadership in Washington
(SAN JUAN, P.R. – March 31, 2017) Puerto Rico’s landfills are in “crisis” with most being over capacity and operating illegally, drawing the concern of the U.S. Congress, according to statements today by officials of the Federal Oversight Board.
“We are grateful to the Oversight Board for acknowledging the severity of the landfill crisis,” said Hiram J. Torres Montalvo, co-founder of Puerto Rico Limpio. “We urge Governor Rossello and Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González to take immediate actions to support closure.”
“Solid waste management is an island-wide crisis with a majority of landfills over capacity, not complying with EPA regulations and scheduled for closure,” said Ramon Ruiz Comas, executive director of the Board, in discussing the need for funds to improve and repair “critical infrastructure” in Puerto Rico. The comments followed Oversight Board member David A. Skeel, Jr., noting that the U.S. Congressional Task Force on Economy Growth in Puerto Rico included in its report to Congress it was “concerned about landfills in Puerto Rico.”
Puerto Rico Limpio recently released letters to Governor Rosselló and Resident Commissioner González urgently asking for their leadership in immediately halting operations at non-compliant municipal landfills and seeking federal funds for closures and cleaning up contaminated lands. Neither official has yet responded, privately or publicly.
“The only non-compliant municipal landfills in the United States today are in Puerto Rico,” Torres Montalvo said. “This is not how States behave.”