A Puerto Rico Crisis the EPA Can Easily Resolve

Today, Peter Lopez, the new regional administrator for Region 2 of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will testify before the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee to address concerns on the safety and reliability of potable drinking water following Hurricanes Maria and Irma. This is not a new problem to Puerto Rico.  This has been more than two decades in the making.

According to the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), close to 70% of the Island’s drinking water comes from sources that are contaminated and in violation of federal law.  One of the key reasons for this is toxic dirty landfills that are out of compliance and remain open despite federal orders to close.

Congress recently earmarked $2 billion in Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) to help Puerto Rico rebuild after the storm – up to $160 million of which can be used to close these toxic landfills.

“We call upon Mr. Lopez to use his full authority under the law to immediately close the non-compliant toxic landfills that are polluting Puerto Rico and contaminating our drinking water,” said Hiram J. Torres Montalvo, co-founder of Puerto Rico Limpio.  “The EPA should approve the use of the Community Development Block Grants authorized in the 2018 Budget Agreement to close these landfills; not to keep them open so they can keep polluting and poisoning our communities.”

Over 65% of Puerto Rico’s landfills are non-compliant. The EPA has documented widespread violations of the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) – which sets the laws and rules for landfills – including discharging leachate into rivers, protected wetlands and sinkholes over aquifers.  Take, for example, the landfill in Vega Baja, sitting directly atop the Karst Aquifer. A report from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in 2011 cited the Vega Baja landfill as being contaminated with “chlorinated solvents, including: TCE, Dichloroethane, Chloroform, Carbon tetrachloride, tetrachloroethene, tetrachloroethane, and dichloroethane, and methylene chloride.”

The time for closure is now.  Unfortunately, the Obama Administration turned a blind eye to this crisis.  The Trump Administration can change this.

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.

EPA Acknowledges Puerto Rico’s Landfills Unsafe and Should Close; But More Progress Needed from EPA

Today, Peter Lopez, the new regional administrator for Region 2 of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) testified before the U.S. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee. He got some things right; but Mr. Lopez still expressed views that ought to be corrected for the record.

To start, Mr. Lopez acknowledged that some of Puerto Rico’s landfills “are unsafe” and expressed the need to “close them down.” That’s significant progress, and light-years ahead of the Obama Administration’s policy of doing nothing.

Mr. Lopez also acknowledged that 13 landfills “have orders against [them] because they are potentially contaminating groundwater – there could be hazards with the community.” That’s only half-right, the use of the word “potentially” must have been accidental. A 2011 study of the Karst Aquifer by the U.S. National Institutes of Health (NIH), analyzed a number of landfills that sit atop the vital potable water source and concluded there was significant groundwater contamination around the aquifer. For example, the Vega Baja landfill has been contaminated with “chlorinated solvents, including: TCE, Dichloroethane, Chloroform, Carbon tetrachloride, tetrachloroethene, tetrachloroethane, and dichloroethane, and methylene chloride.”

Mr. Lopez also discussed the need for funding landfill closure, and openly stated that “how we drive funding towards the island, which the island will control, to put in secure landfills…” suggests funding is not available for closure. That’s concerning. Congress recently earmarked $2 billion in Community Development Block Grants (CDBG) to help Puerto Rico rebuild after the storm – up to $160 million of which can be used to close these toxic landfills. Now the EPA must support these monies be used only for closure.

Mr. Lopez also stated that the “ultimate responsibility lies with the Commonwealth.” That’s half-right. Certainly successive Puerto Rican Government’s failed to close the island’s non-compliant landfills, but Governor Rosselló has since called the landfills a “crisis” and has urged their closure. Certainly, the EPA is not suggesting it somehow lacks the power to close landfills when their legal authority to do so rests so clearly under Section 7003 of RCRA (42 U.S.C. §6973).

“Puerto Rico Limpio applauds Mr. Lopez for acknowledging that unsafe landfills need to close,” said Hiram J. Torres Montalvo, co-founder of Puerto Rico Limpio. “This is significant progress, and a departure from the Obama Administration’s policy of turning a blind eye. We urge the EPA to support the use of the Community Development Block Grants authorized in the 2018 Budget Agreement to close these toxic landfills; not to keep them open so they can keep polluting and poisoning our communities.”

Torres Montalvo added, “We appreciate our Resident Commissioner Jenniffer González Colón for raising this important issue, and demanding answers on behalf of all Puerto Ricans.”

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.

JUDITH ENCK AND CARMEN GUERRERO’S ALTERNATIVE FACTS

 

(SAN JUAN, P.R. – January 23, 2017) – The disgraced former EPA Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck showed her true colors yet again in an interview with El Nuevo Dia prioritizing composting and plastic bag elimination over the needs of Puerto Rico’s communities who have suffered living next to toxic landfills.

“Enck and interim Caribbean Division Director Carmen Guerrero live and operate by alternative facts,” stated Hiram J. Torres Montalvo, co-founder of Puerto Rico Limpio. “They talk about the importance of the Martin Peña channel’s ‘neighbors’ but did nothing for 8 years for residents like Adelaida Gonzalez and Yahaida Porratas who suffer living next to Toa Baja. We will continue to highlight their criminal negligence, especially for the U.S. Department of Justice.”

Puerto Ricans deserve better than Enck and Guerrero. We urge EPA Administrator nominee Scott Pruitt and the new leadership at the EPA and Governor Rosselló to bring about immediate closure to these landfills that are illegally operating and polluting Puerto Rico in violation of federal and state law.

ENCK RESIGNS UNDER CLOUD OF CRIMINAL SUSPICION

Judith Enck’s time at EPA is one of failure and criminal negligence

Puerto Rico Limpio calls for Judith Enck to be investigated by U.S. Department of Justice

Applauds EPA Administrator nominee Scott Pruitt’s Commitment to Enforce Rule of Law

(SAN JUAN, P.R. – January 18, 2017) – Besieged Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck resigned today amidst a growing cloud of criminal suspicion in her handling of Puerto Rico’s toxic landfills.

“Judith Enck’s actions have have allowed over 20 toxic landfills to remain open and doing business in Puerto Rico,” stated Hiram J. Torres Montalvo, co-founder of Puerto Rico Limpio.  “This is a violation of federal law, and is criminal.”

“Fortunately a breath of fresh air will soon lead the EPA.  Puerto Ricans should be encouraged that EPA Administrator Nominee Scott Pruitt has committed to the ‘rule of law’ as the first among his three core philosophies as EPA administrator.  For over a decade, our communities have seen an absence of law enforcement where toxic landfills have failed to close by the EPA’s inept management and policies that serve the policy priorities of rich donors from New York.  Environmental degradation and inexcusable pollution on the Island has since taken place in over 20 low-income minority communities.  Administrator Nominee Pruitt can demonstrate leadership – and a commitment to the environment – by immediately ordering the closure of these landfills,” continued Torres Montalvo.

LETTER TO CHAIRMAN BARRASSO: INVESTIGATE OBAMA EPA’S ACTIONS IN PUERTO RICO LANDFILL CRISIS

Letter Demands Accountability for Outgoing EPA Officials; Urges EPA Administrator Nominee Scott Pruitt To Commit to Closing Puerto Rico’s Toxic Landfills

(SAN JUAN, P.R. – January 17, 2017) – Ahead of tomorrow’s Senate confirmation hearing for EPA Administrator Nominee Scott Pruitt, Puerto Rico Limpio has written a letter to Chairman John Barrasso (R-WY) of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, and other committee members, asking for an investigation and accountability in the matter.

“Questions should be raised to the EPA Administrator Nominee on the steps that will take place under his leadership to close the Island’s toxic landfills and enforce the law.  The EPA’s existing federal authority is clear to regulate cases of environmental waste and violations of the law.  But from witnessing cases of lead poisoning crisis in Flint, Michigan to Puerto Rico’s toxic landfill crisis, there is plenty of evidence that the outgoing EPA leadership has not done its job,” wrote Hiram J. Torres Montalvo, co-founder of Puerto Rico Limpio.

Puerto Rico Limpio urged the Senate committee to follow through on the Congressional Task Force report recommending Congressional committees of jurisdiction to investigate the EPA’s lax oversight and determine additional steps to close Puerto Rico’s non-compliant landfills.  The failed leadership by EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, EPA Region 2 Administrator Judith Enck, and EPA Caribbean Division Director Carmen Guerrero has contributed to an environmental and public health crisis on the Island.  These officials should be held accountable for prioritizing composting over the health, safety and humane living conditions in Puerto Rico.

“I would respectfully submit that the EPA Administrator Nominee should answer how he will implement responsible and effective management to close Puerto Rico’s toxic landfills.  Each day that passes, Puerto Ricans continue to suffer the effects of officials whose priorities have been woefully misplaced over the last eight years,” the letter stated.

To read Puerto Rico Limpio’s letter to Senate Environment and Public Works Committee Chairman John Barrasso, visit: http://puertoricolimpio.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/01/PRL-Letter-to-Senate-Environment-and-Public-Works-Committee-Chair-1.17…-5.pdf