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September 20, 2022

Earthjustice Declaration on Hurricane Fiona’s Devastating Impact on Puerto Rico

The damage brought by the storm is a reminder that the archipelago deserves a swift leap to rooftop solar and storage

Contacts

Robert Valencia, rvalencia@earthjustice.org

San Juan, PR and Miami, FL

On Sunday, Hurricane Fiona barreled through the archipelago of Puerto Rico, leaving the entire territory powerless and thousands of residents without access to drinking water. According to local reports, the storm brought unprecedented levels of rain, and, in the words of Governor Pedro Pierluisi, the reported damages are “catastrophic.” Meanwhile, rooftop solar and storage systems were critical during and immediately after Fiona, especially for the few Puerto Ricans who have access to them.

Even though it has been five years since the sweeping loss of human lives and natural destruction brought by Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico remains beholden to an obsolete centralized energy grid that cannot withstand the current effects of climate change. In the wake of the devastating news coming out of the archipelago, Earthjustice and its Puerto Rico partners have released the following statement:

“Many communities have been flooded here in Salinas and in other parts of southern and central Puerto Rico,” said Ruth Santiago, attorney, Puerto Rico-based environmental health advocate, and Earthjustice board member. “People who have solar panels and batteries have electric service. Some people have generators, some of which are failing. Most people have nothing and some may die as a result of this complete power outage.”

“Once again our archipelago suffers an environmental injustice due to climate events. It is unbelievable that after five years, on the anniversary of Hurricane Maria, Puerto Rico was hit again by another storm, causing another humanitarian crisis. I hold the bureaucracy and lack of quick response of Puerto Rico’s government, Junta Control Fiscal, FEMA and HUD accountable for not using the funds approved for the recovery of Puerto Rico soon enough to mitigate the effects of natural disasters. Since Hurricane María, it’s evident that Puerto Rico’s centralized energy system has failed us repeatedly, due to the vulnerability of its transmission and distribution system -- from south to north, crossing many mountains," said Myrna Conty, a local Puerto Rican community leader with the group Amigos del Rio Guaynabo. 

"I insist that the historical funds, which amount to $14 billion and were approved to transform our energy system, should be used immediately for renewable energy and specifically for rooftop solar panels with batteries. The people of Puerto Rico cannot wait any longer, as climate change is real. Hurricane Fiona left millions of people without power and water and our lives are in danger.  Since 2018, we've had an alternative: our proposal called We Want Sun (Queremos Sol).  It is urgent that the reconstruction of our vulnerable centralized energy system stop burning fossil fuels and use the sun as the resource we have on the island. We have plenty of it,” Conty added. 

“Every critical facility in Puerto Rico lost power as soon as the storm landed. Critical facilities like hospitals and fire stations cannot be at the mercy of a centralized grid this vulnerable,” said Raghu Murthy, attorney at Earthjustice. “They need to switch to rooftop solar and storage systems, as do rural communities that could take weeks to get power back. Distributed generation in Puerto Rico has proven its resilience through storms, and every Puerto Rican household deserves access to this readily available technology.”

Puerto Rico needs your help now, so please consider making donations to the following environmental and community-based organizations on the island:

About Earthjustice

Earthjustice is the premier nonprofit environmental law organization. We wield the power of law and the strength of partnership to protect people’s health, to preserve magnificent places and wildlife, to advance clean energy, and to combat climate change. We are here because the earth needs a good lawyer.