U.S. Rep. Gutiérrez blasts Puerto Rico fiscal board over Arecibo incinerator
SAN JUAN – Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, a longtime Democrat from Illinois whose parents migrated from Puerto Rico in the 1950s, blasted the island’s fiscal control board over its plans to approve construction of waste-to-energy incinerator facilities proposed by Energy Answers Arecibo LLC. He questioned the resource-recovery means the company would use to generate renewable energy and recyclable material in Arecibo’s Cambalache neighborhood.
The representative made his remarks during a protest Monday, across from the fiscal board’s office in Hato Rey, by the Anti-Incineration Organizations Coalition, which made it clear they reject construction of the project.
“This is a dirty project because it generates pollution; dirty because it is done behind the backs of the people; and dirty because we don’t know who is paying the money for this project and who is lobbying for it to be achieved,” the congressman denounced.
In a release, Mark J. Green, Energy Answers’s Arecibo Resource Recovery project manager, said it was pleased to be included in the first group of projects selected to participate in the public comment phase of the Promesa Title V Critical Project review process, its “24th public comment period.”
However, it said, “It is unfortunate that at this critical time, as Puerto Rico struggles to address severe and lasting economic, energy and solid waste crises, worsened by hurricanes Irma and Maria, there are those that work to prevent the progress of this thoroughly vetted and environmentally sound project.”
“We know that former Gov. Luis Fortuño is earning hundreds of thousands of dollars for a project that all mayors, except Arecibo’s [Carlos Molina of the New Progressive Party], and elected officials are against. That seems ironic to me, from someone who was governor, but at the same time, we should not be surprised,” he added.
Under the Fortuño administration, he said, a natural gas pipeline was being considered, which Gutiérrez criticized in 2012 “because of the potential for environmental disaster and the manner in which it was being pushed through by the Puerto Rican government,” according to an October 2012 release from the congressman’s office.
“As a $750+ million, 80 MW [megawatt] Gross / 70 MW Net, baseload renewable energy facility, powered by 2,100 tons per day of processed municipal solid waste, the Arecibo Resource Recovery Project offers the unique ability to help simultaneously address the ongoing economic development, solid waste management and renewable energy generation crises, currently underway in Puerto Rico,” Energy Answers explains in its release.
Gutiérrez emphasized that the fiscal board, by virtue of the federal Promesa law, must follow established protocol to address these issues.
The federally established fiscal panel’s first step, the congressman said, should have been to provide a public report on this type of critical project. Secondly, he added, a recommendation from the sitting governor, in this case Ricardo Rosselló, should be presented to the board.
Thirdly, he stressed, a Planning Board determination and, fourthly, a recommendation from the Puerto Rico Energy Commission are also required. He assured these documents have not been made public.
“Under the law, the fiscal oversight board has to take those four steps before proceeding, and no one has seen this being been done. They should not continue to work behind the backs of the people of Puerto Rico,” Gutiérrez said.
The company assures that the more than $750 million “infrastructure investment and over 7,000 direct, indirect an induced construction jobs that will be generated over the 3.5-year construction period, plus the 700+ direct, indirect and induced full-time jobs that the Project will produce during its operating life, provide an immediate and lasting economic stimulus to the Arecibo region and to the island as a whole.”
The lawmaker continued questioning the project: “We know [Noel] Zamot, [Promesa revitalization coordinator,] testified under oath before the [U.S. House] Natural Resources Committee and said the purpose of this plant was for waste and not power generation. The fiscal oversight board says these projects come from the private sector–financed by them. So, why are they [the oversight board] paying them [Energy Answers] $500 million from the Department of Agriculture? Where do you look for energy money in rural areas and who looks for that? Well, Energy Answers, who are the ones asking for the money,” he said.
Gutiérrez recalled that during the congressional hearings at which Zamot testified, the revitalization coordinator did not say he would “abide by the will of the citizenry regarding the project, but merely indicated he would hold public hearings to receive input from the citizenry.”
In its justification of the project, Energy Answers says Puerto Rico’s “current solid waste management system relies on landfills, of which over 80 percent do not and cannot comply with the local or federal environmental regulations designed to protect human health and the environment. The addition of approximately 2,100 tons per day of fully compliant solid waste management capacity, which includes the recovery of metals and other materials for recycling and reuse, is greatly needed.”
Adding that “the Project has undergone a rigorous 6+ year environmental review process at the local and federal level, with all reviews confirming that the Project does not pose a threat to human health or the environment. On several occasions, we have attempted to reach Representative Gutiérrez to discuss the details of the Project and address the common myths about the Project including the notion that:
1. The Project site will be subject to flooding during severe storms. This myth overlooks the fact that as part of the construction process, the Project site will be elevated, using fill material, above the 500-year flood level.
2. The Project emissions will worsen lead levels in an already sensitive area. This is opposite of the EPA’s conclusion, which found that the lead levels from the Project, in the area of greatest concern, would be 3,000 times below the national standards designed to protect human health and the environment.”