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

TIME FOR EPA ENFORCEMENT AT LANDFILLS

Puerto Rico Limpio asks EPA administrator Pruitt to enforce the rule of law and end 8 years of negligence from the EPA Region 2 office.

(SAN JUAN, PR – April 3, 2017) Today, Puerto Rico Limpio released a letter sent to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) administrator, Scott Pruitt, urging him to use his authority to immediately close all 20 toxic, illegal, non-compliant landfills in Puerto Rico.

“Since the launch of our campaign the Congressional Task Force on Economic Growth in Puerto Rico, and the Financial Oversight and Management Board have acknowledged the islands landfill crisis and urged action be taken, it is now time for administrator Pruitt to use the EPA’s authority and resources to close these toxic dumps once and for all,” said Hiram J. Torres Montalvo, co-founder of Puerto Rico Limpio.

The group urged the administrator to uphold the founding principles of the EPA, and enforce the preexisting laws governing solid waste management. Puerto Rico Limpio is calling on the EPA to implement the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) section 7003 and to utilize funds under the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act (CERCLA) to bring immediate closure at all non-compliant sites.

The crisis in Puerto Rico has long been ignored by the EPA. For the past 8 years, President Obama appointee’s, administrator Gina McCarthy and former Region 2 administrator Judith Enck, documented the crisis but never once enforced the law to close these toxic landfills.

“We recently sent letters to Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rosselló, and Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González, we are confident that the collaborative efforts of Rosselló, González, the Financial Oversight and Management Board, along with administrator Pruitt will bring justice to Puerto Rico and finally end this crisis,” said Torres Montalvo.

To read the letter from Puerto Rico Limpio sent to EPA administrator Scott Pruitt, click here.

JENNIFFER GONZÁLEZ: TIME TO LEAD ON TOXIC LANDFILLS

Puerto Rico Limpio urges Resident Commissioner González to seek the federal funds to close toxic landfills  

(SAN JUAN, P.R. – March 29, 2017) Today, Puerto Rico Limpio released a letter sent to Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón calling on her to address the toxic landfill crisis in Puerto Rico, and to seek federal funds from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency to bring about their immediate closure.

“Ms. González, please help! The community of Candelaria can no longer live like this. The Toa Baja landfill is toxic and the EPA ordered it shut down, but the Puerto Rican Government and Carmen Guerrero do nothing. The landfill makes my family and me very sick,” said Candelaria resident Yahaida Porrata in pleading for the Commissioner’s help.

The EPA already determined that the landfill crisis poses an “imminent threat” posed by the majority of the island’s landfills, poisoning low-income residential communities, contaminating rivers, marine resources, protected wetlands, and drinking water supplies, but continues to take no action.

“It is time for Jenniffer González to lead,” said Torres Montalvo. “Our communities have suffered too long. It is not enough to go to Washington to simply advocate for Medicaid funds. Puerto Rico’s Resident Commissioner must fight for the environment, too, and make a public commitment to seek federal funds to close down Puerto Rico’s toxic landfills.”

To read the letter from Puerto Rico Limpio sent to Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González-Colón, click here.

GROUP URGES GOVERNOR ROSSELLÓ TO SEEK FEDERAL FUNDS TO CLOSE TOXIC LANDFILLS

Residents of Toa Baja are living in trash; No community should have to suffer like this, writes Puerto Rico Limpio to Governor

(SAN JUAN, PR – March 21, 2017) Today, Puerto Rico Limpio released a letter to the group sent to Governor Ricardo Rosselló and his administration asking him to take action in stopping the illegal dumping and expansion of the Toa Baja landfill and ask the federal EPA for funds to close toxic illegal landfills in Puerto Rico when he is in Washington, DC, this week.

Widespread dumping and the illegal expansion of the landfill continues, exposing residents to toxic fumes, contaminated waters, and illicit gas that poses an imminent danger of explosion and fire. “The situation at the Toa Baja municipal landfill underlines the urgency of this matter. Has made the neighborhood of Candelaria unsafe, and uninhabitable for its residents, “wrote Hiram J. Torres Montalvo, co-founder of Puerto Rico Limpio.

In 2008 the federal EPA determined that the Toa Baja landfill placed , “an imminent and substantial endangerment to health and the environment” and ordered the landfill stop accepting waste. Puerto Rico Clean visited Toa Baja in July of 2016 with public officials and journalists, where it was shown that the Toa Baja landfill was still violating regulations of the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board and the US Environmental Protection Agency. Since then, no action has been taken to stop the illegal contamination of the community. Up to 70% of Puerto Rico’s landfills are violating federal law and posing a threat to the public, according to findings reported by the Congressional Task Force on Economic Growth in Puerto Rico.

“Governor, you have the opportunity to change this,” wrote Torres Montalvo, “We have the power to close the landfill. . “Citizens of the United States, Puerto Rican should be subjected to and forced to live in these conditions, especially when the law expressly forbids it.” The people of Candelaria, like in many affected communities, are begging us for help every day. Time to uphold the rule of law, and close these illegal landfills. ”

To read the letter from Puerto Rico Clean to Governor Rosselló, click here:  http://puertoricolimpio.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/03/Letter-to-Ricky-Rossello-3-20-17.pdf

TOA BAJA WARRANTS FEDERAL INVESTIGATION

“Secret Landfill” in Toa Baja is just the beginning

(SAN JUAN, P.R. – December 7, 2016) – The newspaper exposé in El Vocero  documented a “secret” landfill in Toa Baja that authorities – both locally and federally – have ignored. Unfortunately, what was uncovered in Toa Baja is just part of the scourge of toxic landfills that dot Puerto Rico.

“On top of Toa Baja’s financial crisis, the discovery of their secret dump is alarming,” said Hiram Torres Montalvo, co-founder of Puerto Rico Limpio. “Where was the EQB?  Where was the EPA? And now where is Senator Eduardo Bhatia and Senator Maria de Lourdes? Or even Carmen Yulin? Last week they were eager the support the radical movement against the ashes in Peñuelas, but today are nowhere to be found to help Toa Baja.”

The scourge of 20 toxic landfills will take new leadership to solve.  Puerto Rico has the opportunity to do this under Governor-elect Ricardo Rossello, Mayor-elect Bernardo “Betito” Márquez and the new incoming federal EPA leadership under President-elect Trump.  To date, the leadership of Gina McCarthy and Judith Enck has failed.  They’ve turned a blind eye, and local authorities have failed their oath to uphold the rule of law, Torres Montalvo noted.

“Why have the local authorities allowed powerful interests to dump trash without legal consequence? This secret dump site should have been shut down long ago,” added Torres Montalvo.

The discovery of the secret toxic landfill in Toa Baja is a clear vindication for Puerto Rico Limpio’s campaign calling for closure of all toxic landfills.  In October, Puerto Rico Limpio and Rep. Luis V. Gutiérrez toured the nearby non-compliant Toa Baja municipal landfill where they witnessed firsthand the contamination taking place there, and heard from community residents’ loud pleas for EPA and EQB action.  What took place there in the hours before the Congressman’s arrival is alarming: a large toxic pond – of toxic leachate – was dredged.

Local leaders’ questioning the EPA and EQB’s lax management underscores what Puerto Rico Limpio has been saying all along, and embrace Puerto Rico Limpio’s 4-point plan to address the landfill crisis: 1) revoke the permitting authority of the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board (EQB); 2) close toxic dumps immediately; 3) repurpose closed landfills for conversion to better uses, like clean, sustainable energy alternatives like solar and wind generation; and 4) adopt a plan for full compliance.

 

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

VERIFIED: EPA’S FACT SHEET ON PUERTO RICO’S LANDFILLS MISLEADING AND INCOMPLETE

epa-logo(San Juan, Puerto Rico) – On the day U.S. Representative Luis V. Gutiérrez visited the Toa Baja landfill, the Environmental Protection Agency released a “Fact Sheet” in an attempt to burnish their record in the Commonwealth.  In response, Puerto Rico Limpio has reviewed their claims, and finds them misleading and incomplete.  Rather, the EPA’s document verifies what Puerto Rico Limpio has said since the beginning: the EPA admits that the toxic landfills are a problem; the EPA admits to knowing this fact as far back as 2002; and the EPA’s closure agreements are essentially a get out of jail free card, and allow dirty operators and the PR EQB to carry-on business as usual while these toxic landfills pollute Puerto Rico.

“The EPA’s fact sheet is misleading and incomplete,” said Hiram Torres Montalvo, co-founder of Puerto Rico Limpio. “It’s time for the EPA and EQB to close the Island’s toxic landfills before they further pollute Puerto Rico.’

Puerto Rico Limpio’s Fact Sheet corrects the EPA’s following claims:

EPA Claim #1

“…Only PR EQB has permitting and solid waste enforcement authority over the landfills.”

Fact: Since as early as 2002, the EPA has known of the inadequacy of Puerto Rico’s management of permitting and enforcement of safety of landfill operations. The PR EQB still has not taken steps to enforce federal permitting or safety standards or alter their regulatory program during that same time frame, and no action has been taken by EPA to require the PR EQB to comply with federal safety standards.

EPA Claim #2:

“It is not practical to immediately close most landfills in Puerto Rico. The EPA and PR EQB approach has been to first close those that pose the greatest threat to the environment and to people’s health.”

Fact: It is laughable that the EPA, which has known of and approved of plans that would close all non-compliant landfills, now is concerned with the practicality of closure. The EPA over 20 years ago knew of the plan to close non-compliant landfills as expeditiously as possible, and had supported and pushed this until the most recent leadership change in Region 2. The EPA’s own documents support our position.

EPA Claim #3:

“The EPA’s Consent Orders and the Consent Decrees go above and beyond requiring proper closure… and composting provisions are included…” 

Fact: To start, the EPA’s Consent Orders have forced just one landfill to permanently close during the entirety of the Obama Administration.  The added focus of composting as a solution to the crisis is well, perplexing.  These orders were issued to protect the public from “imminent threat to public health or the environment,” unfortunately, close to ten years later, and all we have is delay of safety and environmental protection.

EPA Claim #4:

“The EPA has taken action to encourage and cultivate higher recycling rates in municipalities across the Commonwealth.”

Fact: Recycling rates in Puerto Rico are less than 10% when the national average of 35%.  Why is this?  It is cheaper to dump trash in non-compliant landfills where the per-ton tipping fee is cheaper.  If you closed the non-compliant landfills and trash was forced to go to compliant landfills costs associated with disposing of recyclable material would be expensive hence it would force recycling to increase.  This is basic economics 101.

EPA Claim #5:

“The EPA has worked to get mosquito control plans in place for all Puerto Rico landfills. EPA sent letters to the landfills under EPA order, beginning in April 2016…”

Fact:   Residents near non-compliant landfills have complained publicly about mosquito infestations, including during the recent fact-finding visit by Congressman Luis V. Gutierrez (D-IL) to Toa Baja.  “It’s almost impossible for us to live here.  The mosquitos at night are alarming because of the Zika virus.  We don’t know what do to,” said resident Adelaida Gonzalez, during his visit.

EPA Claim #6:

“The budget crisis in Puerto Rico makes it more difficult for municipalities to properly address landfills…The central government of Puerto Rico faces a budget crisis which extends to the municipalities…”

Fact: Solid waste management and disposal is an essential service.  The EPA should not conflate the financial crisis with an “imminent threat to public health or the environment,” which they are directly culpable. Further, Puerto Rico Limpio has conducted research that approximates the revenues collected by non-compliant Puerto Rico landfills using 2016 figures on tons received by non-compliant landfills, and calculating revenues from tipping fees based on Puerto Rico’s Solid Waste Management Authority’s 2007 Dynamic Itinerary report.  The calculations indicate that, on average, the non-compliant landfills generated $2.8 million in revenues from tipping fees.

Please click here to read more from Puerto Rico Limpio’s new fact sheet, “EPA’s Failure to Close Puerto Rico Landfills.”

To read the full report, “The Poisoning of Puerto Rico”, and see internal EPA documents showing decades of official negligence, visit: www.puertoricolimpio.org/the-poisoning-of-puerto-rico/?lang=en

To see a map of Puerto Rico’s toxic landfills that are still in operation, visit: http://puertoricolimpio.org

To learn more about Puerto Rico Limpio, its mission and important information about dangerous, non-compliant landfills, go to: PuertoRicoLimpio.org, Puerto Rico Limpio on Facebook, or follow us on Twitter: @PRLimpioOrg.

ADMISSION OF GUILT PUERTO RICAN OFFICIALS ACKNOWLEDGE LANDFILLS TOXIC NEED TO CLOSE

Claims of no money are hollow, EQB gutted staff, Solid waste an essential service

(San Juan, Puerto Rico) – Today, Weldin Ortiz Franco, president of the Puerto Rican Environmental Quality Board (EQB) admitted that Puerto Rico’s non-compliant landfills should be closed, but he claims there’s no money to protect the public’s health and carry out this essential service.  His comments come as the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)  and the local EQB are coming under growing public pressure following the visit of U.S. Representative Luis Guiterrez to Puerto Rico this week to do their job.

“Weldin Ortiz confirmed what Puerto Rico Limpio has been saying from the start: the non-compliant landfills are toxic and should be shut down immediately,” said Hiram J. Torres Montalvo, co-founder of Puerto Rico Limpio, who co-organized Congressman Gutiérrez’s visit.  “The failure to shut down these landfills rests solely with Judith Enck and the EQB, and attempts to abdicate responsibility by claiming there’s no money is a politically expedient attempt to shift attention away from their massive failure to protect the public’s health.”

EQB President Ortiz Franco further alleges he does not have the staff to carry out such closures and do inspections. Yet Ortiz Franco’s assertion contradicts the EPA’s own 2014 assessment –revealed by Puerto Rico Limpio- that the EQB decided to gut its staff from 2000 to 2012, from 14 central solid waste compliance and permitting staff eventually to zero.

Ortiz Franco’s hollow cries follow Congressman Gutiérrez’s visit to Puerto Rico this week to see first-hand the contamination of communities surrounding the Toa Baja landfill. Congressman Gutiérrez heard from residents that rats infest their pantries, the smell from Toa Baja has been unbearable and the mosquitos at night risk spreading the Zika virus throughout the neighborhood.  Only now has the EQB stated the Toa Baja landfill should be closed.

Recently, Puerto Rico Limpio released a report, “The Poisoning of Puerto Rico,” which disclosed internal EPA documents proving that the Agency has known for over a decade that the majority of Puerto Rico’s municipal landfills are operating in violation of nearly all federal rules and pose an “imminent threat to human health and the environment,” something the EPA knew for over a decade.

To read Puerto Rico Limpio’s letter to Carmen Guerrero of the EPA (in Spanish), visit: http://puertoricolimpio.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/PR-Limpio-Carta-a-C-Guerrero-limpio.pdf