Saturday, December 15, 2018

Puerto Rico House hearings discuss climate change policy

By on October 10, 2018

SAN JUAN – According to scientific data, Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives said in a release Wednesday, greenhouse gas emissions in Puerto Rico rose faster than the stateside average in 2005.

That year, emissions in Puerto Rico rose nearly 80%, versus close to 16% nationally. Also, the hot days on the island doubled. The problem was attributed to the main sources of greenhouse gas emissions: the electric power, transportation and industrial sectors.

The information was provided to the House Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee chaired by Rep. Joel Franqui Atiles, by Senate Vice President Larry Seilhamer Rodríguez during House public hearings on Senate Bill 773, which he authored to propose establishing the government’s public policy on climate change and mitigation efforts.

“It has been published in the media how our airport, within the next 20 to 25 years, may be under water, and how coastal areas have been affected because the emanation of CO2 [carbon dioxide] is at extreme levels. I believe Puerto Rico has to join the global trend to lower our CO2 footprint in our environment. We have to move more toward renewable energy,” Franqui Atiles said.

For his part, Seilhamer Rodríguez explained that the measure proposes to create a Committee of Experts on Climate Change, which would have two years to prepare a Mitigation and Adaptation Plan guided by detailed metrics in the bill. At the same time, it stipulates that the committee comprise nine members. Of these, three would be from the Environmental Quality Board under the umbrella of the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER); the University of Puerto Rico (UPR); and the Department of Economic Development and Commerce (DDEC by its Spanish acronym). The remaining six would be appointed by the governor and would be selected by a list submitted by a firm specialized in this field and confirmed by the Senate.

“By 2035, greenhouse gas emissions have to be reduced by 40% compared with the levels of the 1990s. In addition, the general consumption of energy has to be reduced by 1% annually until reaching a low of 10%. Also by 2035, the use of renewable energy must have reached 33%, and it is expected that by 2028, the use of coal in the production of energy is eradicated,” the senator warned.

Rep. Joel Franqui Atiles, chairman of the House Agriculture, Natural Resources and Environmental Affairs Committee (Courtesy)

However, Franqui Atiles said, “We will agree with Senator Seilhamer to raise the metric to 60% or 70% by 2035, because according to the World Economic Forum, in two years, starting in 2020, renewable energy will be cheaper than fossil fuel. If Puerto Rico is going to invest a quantity in reconstructing and moving toward the future, we must take advantage of that money that is coming [federal recovery funds for after Hurricane María] and move toward renewable energy and be more aggressive in that area.”

Testifying for on behalf of the DNER, attorney Laura Díaz Solá supported the initiative and recommended that the legislation should establish clear guidelines on the changes in the decision-making processes regarding the use of space, planning, design, construction and the adaptation of public and private infrastructure in Puerto Rico, in addition to the elements of energy transformation and reduction of greenhouse gas emissions already incorporated into the bill.

The coordinator of the Council on Climate Change of Puerto Rico, Ernesto Díaz, said his panel is close to completing an update on the report on the State of the Climate (2018), which provides the most recent information on the climate of the region and about the vulnerability of the regions’ societies, infrastructure and biodiversity.

“Eighteen members of the council completed the chapter of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands that will be included in the fourth national report on climate that will be published at the end of the current year by the U.S. Global Change Research Program, which is prepared by mandate of the Congress of the United States and has the mission to analyze our socio-economic and ecological vulnerabilities, and develop adaptation strategies to contribute to the development of a more resilient society,” the official said.

For Thursday, the House committee cited the Treasury, Economic Development, and Transportation departments, as well as the Electric Power, Aqueduct and Sewer, and Solid Waste authorities.

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