EPA Issues Conflicting Regulations, Then Watches As Puerto Rico Hurtles Toward Black Outs

(REUTERS/Pavel Rebrov)

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Andrew Follett Energy and Science Reporter
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Puerto Rico is caught between conflicting Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations that could shut down the island’s power grid next month, making blackouts a serious possibility.

The U.S. territory was attempting to comply with EPA emissions standards by transitioning from the island’s existing, mostly oil burning, power plant to one that burns natural gas ahead of April 16, when a one-year legal exemption to federal rules expires. Puerto Rico’s compliance plan was to import liquefied natural gas, until the EPA vetoed that plan in the name of saving sea turtles.

EPA said the gas terminal necessary to fuel the power plant endangers sea turtles and violates environmental regulations. The agency has delayed the import terminal for more than two years by forcing design changes to limit its impact on coral reefs. No construction work has begun on the import terminal, which was supposed to open in 2017.

EPA bureaucrats could fine Puerto Rico’s power authority $37,500 every day for the violations. That’s not exactly good news for an island territory already beset with financial problems.

“We’re here just waiting to see what happens,” Ivelisse Sanchez Soultaire, associate director of Puerto Rico’s power authority, told Bloomberg. “We could be facing the usual consequences, which are fines and possible orders to cease and desist.”

Puerto Rico Gov. Alejandro Garcia Padilla wrote a letter to the EPA in January telling the agency its policy could “threaten reliability of the entire power grid and cripple our economic recovery.” Padilla said transitioning to natural gas power will lower the island’s electricity bills, help the environment and boost their economy.

The plant would also lower electricity prices for the island’s 1.5 million customers, who already pay about twice as much for power than the average American, according to the Energy Information Administration. Even though the LNG terminal will lower carbon dioxide emissions and reduce the risk of oil spills, it has been heavily opposed and even legally challenged by local environmental groups.

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