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Public policy to fight climate change in Puerto Rico proposed

By on January 9, 2018

SAN JUAN – Puerto Rico Senate Vice President Larry Seilhamer introduced a bill Tuesday to implement “scientific and uniform public policy” to transition toward increasing the use of renewable energy to counteract climate change.

Senate Bill 773 includes several efforts that range from the creation of a Committee of Climate Change Experts, to metrics such as reducing the amount solid waste deposited in island landfills by 70 percent by 2028 and increasing recycling.

Senate Vice President Larry Seilhamer. (Courtesy)

During a press conference, Seilhamer described the expert committee as the proposal’s cornerstone. The group, “with total autonomy and legal independence,” would comprise nine members; at least five of whom must reside on the island.

“We don’t need to look for experts in the United States; there are experts in Puerto Rico who master that matter,” Seilhamer assured as he highlighted the assistance from organizations such as the Puerto Rico Climate Change Council and the Engineers & Land Surveyors Association in drafting the bill.

The committee will include three government officials: the presidents of the Environmental Quality Board and the University of Puerto Rico, as well as the Economic Development secretary. They “will not receive any compensation for their services.”

“There is an annual $1 million allocation for the Experts Committee. If that is the reason for this bill not to pass, we will have to respond to future generations,” the senator indicated in reference to the fiscal oversight board’s power to reject measures with an impact on public coffers.

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Among the bill’s objectives are to “increase the use of renewable energy by 33 percent by 2035 and to prohibit the use of coal fuel as an energy source starting in 2028,” a period that will allow the government “to honor agreements and contracts” that extend until that date.

Seilhamer stressed that the contract with Applied Energy Systems ends in 2027, after which the transition of using coal as an energy source on the island to a new “renewable or alternative energy model” would begin.

The measure, which would come in effect in June, also proposes “acquiring a fleet of government vehicles that are hybrid or that work with alternative methods to fossil fuels,” such as solar energy and hydrogen fuel, by 2028.

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The goals are expected to be achieved with the Climate Change Mitigation and Adaption Plan, which the expert committee must prepare within a two-year period. It would then be evaluated “by the Legislative Assembly in the next ordinary session in which it is introduced.”

“In Puerto Rico, we can’t look the other way with our arms crossed. […] We must make a scientific and fundamental transition to renewable energy,” the senator commented, adding that barely 1.8 percent of the island’s power generation is produced from renewable sources.

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