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Senators question possible conflict with designated DNRA-secretary

By on January 13, 2017

Eduardo Bhatia, the Popular Democratic Party (PDP) spokesperson, met with the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNRA) Secretary, Tania Vázquez Rivera, on Friday, due to possible conflicts of interest that could arise after being appointed president of the Environmental Quality Board (EQB).

"I'm going to invite you to read the laws of the agencies," Vázquez Rivera told Bhatia about the laws that make up the DNRA and EQB.

“I’m going to invite you to read the laws of the agencies,” Vázquez Rivera told Bhatia about the laws that make up the DNRA and EQB.

Like Bhatia, Puerto Rican Independence Party (PIP) spokesman Juan Dalmau and Independent Senator José Vargas Vidot had their doubts about the conflict of interests created by having the same person in charge of two government entities that could fine one another.

The questions arose during the confirmation hearing of Vázquez Rivera in the Hall Leopoldo Figueroa, where the designation of Justice Secretary Wanda Vázquez Garced was also being evaluated.

“I have no problem voting in favor for her to be president of the EQB or — and it is not ‘and’ — secretary of the DNRA. I have a problem with both because I believe that a conflict of interest will arise, a conflict of positions will arise. He wants to correct me because both entities are the same. They are not the same,” Bhatia said when Vázquez Rivera indicated that the EQB and DNRA  “are not incompatibles, but exactly the same. “

Because of this, the DNRA secretary insisted that, although both agencies can issue fines towards each other, it is not illegal that she alone directs them, according to a legal analysis she made of the laws created by the two entities. “I’m going to invite you to read the laws of the agencies,” the senator said.

“I have read them and I ask you to be patronizing. Believe me, I know the laws of this country and believe me, I’ve been in this for 20 years […] If you just told me that the EQC can fine the DNRA, then how can you wear the two hats at the same time? That’s totally incompatible, it’s like I can be a judge and part,” Bhatia replied minutes before Vargas Vidot resumed the subject.

Upon his departure, Vazquez Rivera told reporters that he did not consider there would be a conflict because they are “sister agencies” that work “with a common purpose.” “If there was an appearance — which there will not be — another person will be named to deal with the matter,” he said.

Regarding the possibility of consolidating the EQB and DNRA, the designated one stated that “in due time, it has to be analyzed.”

“I do not see conflict. Both are regulatory agencies. In addition to being a regulatory entity, the DNRA has more of an operational aspect than the EQB. The Board has more of an adjudicative character,” Senate President Thomas Rivera Schatz said at the end of the hearing. The legislator said that the designated one “is a very capable person,” suggesting that the position will be confirmed.

On the other hand, the designated one refused to pick a side on the deposit of coal ash in the landfill of Peñuelas, a controversy that has provoked demonstrations in the region, after being questioned by Senator Dalmau.

“I have to be impartial […] If I was to give some criteria right now, that could affect my impartiality later, it would be irresponsible of me. The positions [around the coal ash deposit] are clear: health and safety, preservation of the environment and respect for regulations and laws,” Vázquez Rivera said.

After questions from Senator Vargas Vidot, the DNRA secretary-general said she did not recall the controversy surrounding the construction of the failed Dos Mares Resort in the Northeast Ecological Corridor (NEC) and the way in which permits were granted in a protected area. “I do not know the details of the permit [… ] Some lands were acquired in order to preserve them,” she replied.

On the other hand, during her presentation, Vázquez Rivera said that she will promote the sustainable use of natural resources and will seek to change the way that the environmental agencies are seen so that there is a balance between development and the preservation of the environment.


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