Senate Approves Resolution to Include Ash Problem in Next Special Session
SAN JUAN—With 22 votes in favor and none against, the Puerto Rico Senate approved on Monday during its fourth special session Senate Resolution 1444, which asks Gov. Alejandro García Padilla to include in the next special session Senate Bill 340, which creates public policy to regulate the disposal of coal ash on the island.
The approval came after strong allegations by the senator for the Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) and former gubernatorial candidate, María de Lourdes Santiago, who strongly criticized Applied Energy Systems (AES) for the disposal of ash, itself a product of coal-burning, in several communities in southeastern Puerto Rico.
Santiago highlighted the struggle of the community of Tallaboa and the island’s support for the struggle to preserve the integrity of natural resources and the health of its citizens.
“Whatever pernicious environmental project there is on the island, it will end in Peñuelas. These are the communities who for decades suffered the horror of petrochemicals, whose residues are still affecting the landscape and generating pollution in lands that will never have any other use than the industrial one because of the type of use to which they were subjected,” the senator energetically said.
“And in recent years, the straw that broke the camel’s back, is the use of Tallaboa as the depository of the ashes generated by the plant that operates in Guayama and is dedicated to a rather primitive form of energy generation, which is the burning of coal. This burning of coal produces 600 to 1000 tons of ash every day. Ashes that are accumulated in the open to the detriment of the communities that live near the plants and that are transported to landfills of Humacao and Peñuelas, where they have been used as filling and construction material,” she added.
Santiago recalled that part of her efforts consisted in pushing for 44 municipal legislatures to approve an ordinance that prevents the disposal of ashes in each of these municipalities. In the case of Peñuelas Municipal Ordinance Number 13 has served as a judicial procedure in the community’s lawsuits against the coal-based power plant.
Senate President Eduardo Bhatia recently called on the president of the Environmental Quality Board (JCA), Weldin F. Ortiz Franco, and the head of the Federal Environmental Protection Agency In Puerto Rico (EPA), Carmen Guerrero, to explain the amendment to the contract that the Puerto Rico Electricity and Power Authority (Prepa) maintains with AES that allows them to dispose of the ashes in the country’s landfills.
“My warning to Senator Bhatia is that the president of the EQB can say anything. I do not believe him. I have been there when he has deposed about pollution in Vieques, I have seen him play the embarrassing role of an attorney for the Navy. The EQB president has gone to Vieques to tell the communities that the best way to clean up [the remnants of the Navy exercises on the island] is to set fire to explosive devices, adding that the pantomime research that Navy employees carry out is enough. The EQB can say what it wants and the current EPA director worryingly lukewarm on Bill 340, supporting the use of ash as a building material. Instead of taking the ashes to the landfill, we take them straight to the families in their homes. Those are completely unacceptable positions, “said the former gubernatorial candidate.