Puerto Rico’s “Gasoducto”: Natural Gas Pipeline or Environmental Hazard?

Today, June 9, 2011, local Puerto Rican leaders, activists and supporters of the Puerto Rican people and the environment, including the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights-NYC Chapter, Labor Council for Latin American Advancement, and East Harlem Preservation, met at noon in front of 26 Federal Plaza in New York city to protest the controversial plan to build a 93-mile natural gas pipeline that will cross the island from south to north. Protestors asked that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deny the permit requested by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) to construct the dangerous pipeline. [Also see previous post Massive Puerto Rico pipeline triggers debate.]

As the National Institute for Latino Policy (NILP) reports, “the gathering will take place just days before the National Puerto Rican Parade which has been dedicated to the natural environment of Puerto Rico. Ironically, it’s a natural environment that is threatened by this costly, unnecessary and destructive project.” Critics say it will expose people living near it to deadly explosions and cause irreversible damage to the island’s environmental and cultural resources. According to the NILP and other sources, public opposition to the project is strong. Polls indicate that 70% of the citizens of Puerto Rico oppose the construction of the pipeline (El Nuevo Día, March 2011). Officially called by the government Vía Verde [Green Way], the pipeline has been dubbed Vía de la Muerte [Death Route] by its opponents and prompted protests and petitions to stop it. On May 1, 2011, over 30,000 people marched together to protest the “Vía Verde” gas pipeline.

The NILP also explains that Puerto Rico Governor Luis Fortuño has made the $450 million project a central goal of his administration and insists it is a safe and environmentally friendly way to lower utility bills. Apparently, to avoid compliance with basic regulatory standards and ignore procedural safeguards for the construction of such a high-risk project, Fortuño declared a state of energy emergency designed to maintain secrecy, fast-track the permit process, and thwart full public participation in the discussion of the project.

Dr. Arturo Massol—a biology professor, a well-known environmentalist, and director of the Scientific and Technical Commission of Casa Pueblo, a community-based organization in Puerto Rico that is leading opposition against the pipeline project—says that “Several independent studies have shown that this project will have a negative environmental impact on the island’s natural resources like no other project carried out in Puerto Rico in decades,” adding that “as proposed, the pipeline passes near schools, universities, churches, public beaches, factories [and] densely transited freeways, and puts the health, life and property of over 200,000 people at risk” of dangerous gas explosions. He explains that the “gasoducto” will affect 1,500 acres of forests and not significantly reduce energy costs. Massol calls for development of infrastructure that can harness the island’s solar and wind power to meet its energy needs.

Fortuño’s administration has maintained that the pipeline – which would run 4 feet underground – poses no significant safety threats to its citizens or the island’s environment and that “Vía Verde will not only cut energy costs by up to 30% but also reduce gas emissions by 60% and create 4,500 direct and indirect jobs during its construction phase.”

For full article, see http://www.nydailynews.com/latino/2011/06/08/2011-06-08_gasoduct.html

For an interview with Dr. Massol, go to http://www.democracynow.org/2011/6/9/critics_dub_planned_puerto_rico_pipeline

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