Concerns fly: Hurricane impacts Puerto Rico coal-ash sites
SAN JUAN – The mountains of Applied Energy Answers (AES) ash, by-products produced from burning coal, visible at a distance from its plant in Guayama, Puerto Rico, as well as its Peñuelas Valley Landfill (PVL) deposit site, have decreased in size after Hurricane María blew over the island Sept. 20, a lawmaker said Wednesday.
Sen. Nelson Cruz of the Ponce District filed a lawsuit in his town earlier this year seeking for the immediate halt of coal ash deposits in the PVL.
“[The mountain of ash in the landfill] was impacted. The water runoff took much of the accumulated material. This has impacted not only the landfills in Peñuelas, but also the mountain of ash in Guayama. I invite you to go by there and compare photos of the AES ash mountain before the hurricane with what is now there. It is clear they have gone down many feet in height,” the senator explained as he assured that the Environmental Quality Board (JCA by its Spanish initials) must ensure to collect the fines against the company from the moment they were issued up to when the Category 4 storm arrived.
Although Ponce Court Judge Marisol Díaz ruled against the senator, he said the ruling validated that the JCA has jurisdiction over the AES plant and its ash production.
The senator went further and assured that “the ball is in the JCA’s court” to act because, as provided in Act 40-2017, which prohibits the deposit of the material in the Peñuelas landfill, if the company doesn’t take action within 90 days, the law comes into effect automatically.
“I invite the JCA secretary to go or send her inspectors to see the hurricane’s effect on the mountains of ash. Logically, the AES president will deny as he is used to doing, but if something good has come out of Hurricane María is that ash isn’t being produced right now and it isn’t contaminating the communities of Peñuelas and Humacao,” he said as he expressed concern about the allegedly toxic material’s impact on the island.
“There are many wetlands near the area, there is wildlife there. In the bay of Guayama and Salinas there are endangered animals, such as the manatee and brown pelican, which are species that have been affected by this. I hope to speak next Tuesday with the Physicians & Surgeons Association of Puerto Rico, which has information from pneumologists who are well-aware of this matter, who have evidence in their hands to be able to demonstrate that the ashes in effect produce harmful effects to health,” he said.
Cruz Santiago urged JCA President Tania Vázquez to exercise her leadership and agency’s regulation and collect the fines against AES to benefit communities.