Puerto Rico Senate approves ban on coal ash deposits
SAN JUAN – A bill that prohibits the deposit of coal ash in Puerto Rico was approved Saturday afternoon by the island’s Senate and the measure will now go before the House for consideration.
Senate Bill 81 was approved with 25 votes in favor and five against, with amendments from independent Sen. José Vargas Vidot, which state that coal ash can only be stored in a silo for a year, after which if the combustion byproduct is not used for “beneficial” commercial use it must leave Puerto Rico.
The Senate also approved several amendments that were consulted with La Fortaleza, the governor’s office, one of which allows the ash to remain in Puerto Rico if it has “any other beneficial commercial use, as established by the relevant state and federal regulatory agencies.”
“Everyone knows my position on coal [ash] management…. Today the rule of law is that anyone who votes against this bill allows the ash to be deposited in its raw state,” argued Larry Seilhamer, vice president of the Senate and author of measure.
Seilhamer added that in the absence of public policy, if the AES measure were not approved, the company could deposit the coal ash it burns to generate electricity in the island’s landfills.
“Although I hoped for more, I think we managed to solve a serious problem. The beneficial use of ash permitted by federal agencies, the governor of Puerto Rico has some bills in mind to see how it can be used. He is seeking to export the ash as raw material for certain products,” the Senate’s vice president said.
The Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) spokesman, Sen. Juan Dalmau, opposed the amendments, in particular, allowing the coal ash to remain in Puerto Rico for “any other beneficial commercial use.”
“This amendment keeps the [options] open so the ash is used for other purposes, and could reach living rooms and bedrooms in homes. I insist that there have been external forces in this process that have led to the approval and adoption of this language that ‘allows beneficial commercial use,'” Dalmau said.
The PIP senator accused big special interests of being “the masters in the manipulation of the [bill’s] language.”
“They are able to call a punch to the face an impact caress. The ashes are bad. They can’t be used in landfills, but can be used as aggregate for roads, for homes? The bill does not meet the hopes of residents. With the amendments that have been made in the chamber, this bill has been reduced to ashes,” Dalmau said.
According to S.B. 81, it is prohibited to store coal ash or coal-fired waste within the territory of Puerto Rico for a period longer than 180 days after it is produced.
“This prohibition does not apply to controlled storage in tanks and silos for the manufacture of cement, mortar and/or concrete prior to its use and any other beneficial commercial use as established by the relevant state and federal regulatory agencies,” the amended bill reads.
The Environmental Quality Board (EQB) is responsible for establishing, through regulation, the particular circumstances for storage during the 180-day period.
“I was going to vote in favor until four o’clock this afternoon, when we were given the amendments, and I am pretty sure they were not written or came from the office of the Senate president or the office of colleague Larry Seilhamer. I’m sure it came from Fortaleza because the beneficial commercial use is AES’s [recurring argument], which it has tried to [relentlessly] push on the people,” Popular Democratic Party minority Sen. Cyril Tirado said.
Tirado said the New Progressive Party Senate majority has become “simple pawns of La Fortaleza” by making way for the amendments suggested by the executive branch.