Tomorrow the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations will hold a hearing to address the AES power plant in Guayama, Puerto Rico. AES, a billion-dollar global energy corporation, will not participate in the hearing and is refusing to answer to the ongoing coal ash contamination harming communities and environment in the vicinity of its plant. LUMA Energy, which began operating Puerto Rico’s electric grid this month in a widely-criticized public-private partnership with the island’s public utility PREPA, also refuses to testify and be questioned by the Subcommittee.
While AES has removed much of the coal ash from its enormous storage pit, it is doing so by transporting and dumping this dangerous waste in Georgia and Florida — transferring this toxic problem to new sites. Recently, a ship carrying AES’s coal ash to Florida capsized, spilling thousands of tons of its hazardous cargo into the waters off the coast of Jacksonville. When coal is burned to produce electricity, coal ash is left behind. Filled with chemicals such as arsenic, radium, and other carcinogens, coal ash poisons water, kills fish and wildlife, and can cause acute and long-term illness to those who come into contact with it.
Alberto Colón will testify to the committee and speak to his own personal experience living close to the coal plant for over 20 years. “I have seen the health of my neighbors and family deteriorate from exposure to high levels of heavy metals found in coal ash,” says Alberto Colón. “In 2018, the University of Puerto Rico School of Public Health conducted a study showing that rates of cancer in my community have increased by 50%. This directly relates to coal ash exposure.”
Ruth Santiago, an environmental attorney with Comité Diálogo Ambiental, will also testify. She says, “In addition to the closure of the AES coal-fired plant and the other requests, we urge this Committee, the Federal government, and the Puerto Rican government to require the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (“PREPA”) to invest the Federal Emergency Management Agency (“FEMA”) funds allocated for the electric system for on-site/rooftop solar and battery systems and energy efficiency programs that will provide life-saving electric service to the residents of Puerto Rico. Multiple studies have shown the viability, reliability, and economic benefits of rooftop solar and storage in Puerto Rico.”
Recently, more than 140 organizations that represent a broad sample of Puerto Rican society, including the Puerto Rican diaspora in the United States and private companies, joined in demanding the definitive closure of the AES coal plant in Guayama.
Victor Alvarado Guzmán, a spokesperson for those demanding the closure, says “We are disappointed that AES and LUMA refuse to participate in this hearing and continue to deny responsibility for the harms they have caused by burning coal. Not only must AES be held accountable for the ongoing poisoning of our community, aquifers, air and land, we must eliminate the use of coal as an energy source and replace fossil fuels with renewable energy sources in Puerto Rico.”
Earthjustice, on behalf of nine Puerto Rico advocacy groups, recently filed a complaint to the Permits Management Office of Puerto Rico. The complaint requests that the Office deny and revoke AES’ proposed construction permit for a liner under the leaking coal ash waste pile at the Guayama plant because AES has not demonstrated that this liner will stop the source of the groundwater contamination. The complaint also alleges that the placement of the coal ash waste pile above the very shallow aquifer will continue to harm the groundwater and nearby wetlands. Further, AES has failed to comply with federal coal ash regulations and clean up the groundwater at the AES plant in Guayama and prevent coal ash dust from leaving the site in the air.
“We’re grateful to the House Subcommittee on Oversight and Investigations for uplifting this issue, but we are gravely let down by AES and LUMA Energy for evading a critical opportunity”, says Christine Santillana, Legislative Counsel, Earthjustice. “Their absence reflects an unwillingness to face the severe contamination and health harms to communities across the island who have been living with this toxic coal ash for nearly two decades. These communities cannot afford to wait any longer. The AES plant in Guayama must close now.”