Puerto Rico Community Overburdened by Pollution Pushes Back on Incinerator Project

Proposed Arecibo Waste Incinerator would further harm community encircled by pollution, if given federal funding


Betsy Lopez-Wagner, Earthjustice, (415) 217-2159


Myrna Conty, Amigos del Río Guaynabo, (787) 360-6358


Wilfredo Velez Hernandez, Ciudadanos En Defensa Del Ambiente, (939) 281-5105


Javier Biaggi, Comité Basura Cero-Arecibo, (787) 371-1709


Teresa Sánchez, Madres De Negro De Arecibo, (787) 685-7887


Adriana González, Sierra Club Puerto Rico, (787) 688-6214

Five local community groups are saying no to a project that would introduce a major source of pollution and bankrupt municipalities in Puerto Rico, if given federal funding and approval to move forward. The United States Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service is weighing the proposal to fund a waste incinerator in Arecibo, Puerto Rico for the New York-based company Energy Answers.

Local opposition to the project is rooted in the fact that Puerto Rico does not need and cannot afford a “waste-to-energy” incinerator that would pollute already-overburdened communities and lock them into decades of generating dirty energy and sending high volumes of waste to incineration. Today marks the close of the public comment period on the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s draft environmental impact statement for the waste incinerator in Puerto Rico.

Earthjustice, a national nonprofit environmental law firm, and the Vermont Law School Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic are representing Amigos Del Río Guaynabo, Inc., Ciudadanos En Defensa Del Ambiente, Comité Basura Cero Arecibo, Madres De Negro de Arecibo, and Sierra Club de Puerto Rico and the communities they represent in fighting the Arecibo waste incinerator project. Earthjustice and the Vermont Law School Clinic submitted comments on behalf of the groups today.  Public actions by the groups have generated more than 5,000 comments asking the federal agency to pull the plug on the proposed incinerator.

Community members and municipalities across Puerto Rico are against the proposed incinerator, a facility which would lock in the most expensive and polluting means to control waste and the most expensive and polluting means to generate electricity—all while exposing communities already suffering from unsafe lead levels and other toxic emissions to even more pollution. 

“Throwing federal dollars into this project shows a flagrant disregard for the will of the local affected communities,” said Hannah Chang, Earthjustice attorney. “If this incinerator were built, it would be one of the first such facilities built in the U.S. in two decades, and it would be sited in an area characterized by extreme poverty and with a predominantly minority population already overburdened by pollution.”

Arecibo is the site of many polluting industrial activities, including a secondary lead smelter whose emissions have caused Arecibo to exceed legal limits on lead pollution in the air.  Lead is a persistent, highly-damaging neurotoxin. There is broad scientific consensus that there is no safe level of lead exposure.

“To prioritize incineration and landfilling over recycling is defeating common sense and can only be justified by sheer ignorance or blunt corruption,” said Javier Biaggi of the Comité Basura Cero-Arecibo. “In 1976, the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act showed us the way—reduce, reuse, recycle and compost. Yet we landfill more than $500 million dollars a year worth of post-consumer raw materials, and now RUS is proposing to fund an incinerator that will burn these materials, producing minimal energy but generating massive amounts of pollution.”

The Puerto Rico waste incinerator project is being challenged in at least four separate legal venues, and 77 of Puerto Rico’s 78 municipalities have publicly refused to send their waste to this proposed facility. The project cannot move forward without federal funding.

“This waste incinerator will adversely affect our environment and our health,” said Teresa Sánchez of Madres De Negro de Arecibo, who has been fighting the incinerator project for five years. “We don’t want this project in Puerto Rico or anywhere on our planet. Our recommendation for garbage management is recycling. We have to leave a livable planet for the next generations.”

“How can we trust the Environmental Protection Agency, the United States Department of Agriculture and Puerto Rico’s local agencies to protect our health and environment if they are going to allow a source of lead emissions to be built in one of the few areas in this country already classified as an non-attainment area for high levels of lead?” said Myrna Conty, President of Amigos del Río Guaynabo. “Financial support by this federal agency to a company with questionable repayment capacity would be a gross mishandling of taxpayer dollars.”

“Far from being a solution to meet our energy needs and to combat global warming, incineration is a danger to the health of our communities and the climate,” said Adriana González Delgado, Sierra Club Puerto Rico organizer. “That is why we ask Rural Utilities Service not to waste taxpayer money supporting this project.”

“Not only is it terrible policy to use taxpayer dollars to add to Arecibo’s existing lead problem, it is an affront to the community, who will be forced into paying Energy Answers for dirtier air,” said Kenneth J. Rumelt, Assistant Professor at Vermont Law School.

Related information:  For more details, read Ingrid Vila’s blog post detailing this Puerto Rican community’s repeated fight for justice, clean air and a healthy environment or follow the conversation on social media against the waste incinerator via #prohibidoincinerar or at http://prohibidoincinerar.org.

Read this release in Spanish. See legal document, here. 

Protesters gather to march against the incinerator in Arecibo.
Protesters gather to march against the incinerator in Arecibo. (Claudio Alvarez / El Comunicador de Puerto Rico)

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