Puerto Rican Activists Beg EPA To Finally Shut Down ‘Illegal Landfills’

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Michael Bastasch Contributor
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An environmental group is urging Puerto Rico Gov. Ricardo Rosselló to ask the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to stop dumping waste at landfills that violate federal law and threaten public health.

Puerto Rico Limpio (PRL) sent a letter to Rosselló and the EPA, asking them to “take action in stopping the illegal dumping and expansion of the Toa Baja landfill” and shut down landfills across the state that don’t meet federal regulations.

Rosselló will be in Washington, D.C., Wednesday to testify before Congress on the status of the government-owned utility, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA). Creditors downgraded PREPA to junk status in 2014.

PRL wants Rosselló to talk to the Trump administration about Puerto Rico’s pollution woes. Up to 70 percent of Puerto Rican landfills don’t meet federal standard, according to the group.

“Governor, you have the opportunity to change this,” PRL co-founder Hiram Torres Montalvo wrote in his letter to Rosselló.

“You have the authority to ask the EPA for immediate financial and technical assistance,” Montalvo wrote. “As citizens of the United States, no Puerto Rican should be subjected to and forced to live in these conditions, especially when the law expressly forbids it. It is time to uphold the rule of law, and close these illegal landfills.”

For years, the EPA took no action against landfills across Puerto Rico that did not meet federal standards, according to PRL. Some landfills could have perfect incubation chambers for mosquitos carrying the Zika virus.

PRL released a scathing report in August 2016 detailing how EPA’s Region 2 office knew about the island’s landfill issues for years, but only closed two since 2005.

Twenty out of Puerto Rico’s 27 landfills are out of compliance, PRL found, and the EPA gets a report on the status of the landfills every year. It’s unclear why the agency took no action on the landfills.

Meanwhile, more than 5,500 hundred Puerto Ricans have been diagnosed with the Zika virus, including more than 670 pregnant women — Zika has been linked to severe birth defects when contracted by pregnant women.

PRL sees one landfill in particular, at Toa Baja, as problematic. EPA determined in 2008 the Toa Baja landfill posed “an imminent and substantial endangerment to health and the environment” and ordered the site stop taking waste.

PRL visited the landfill in October 2016 to find it still violated federal laws. It informed EPA and Puerto Rico environmental regulators, but no action has been taken.

Montalvo may have better luck in getting help from the Trump administration. EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has prioritized funding state and tribal environmental clean-up efforts and water infrastructure.

EPA recently gave $100 million to Michigan to help fix water problems in Flint. The agency also restarted clean up efforts at a superfund site in Chicago.

The White House’s budget proposal, however, recommended EPA’s budget be cut 31 percent and workforce be reduced by 3,200 employees.

Environmentalists worry this could jeopardize environmental protection efforts, but administration supporters say the agency will have to refocus its efforts from fighting global warming to dealing with traditional pollution.

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