Coalition: Gov’t failing to halt threat to island’s food security
By John McPhaul
A coalition of organizations and experts called on Gov. Pedro Pierluisi Urrutia to rein in officials who have failed in their duty to ensure food security in Puerto Rico and have allegedly shown gross lack of transparency regarding dozens of industrial energy projects proposed for land of high agricultural and ecological value.
The spokespersons for the coalition called attention to the erroneous public policy of approving — violating citizen participation processes — dozens of industrial energy projects, instead of promoting solar energy on roofs and previously impacted areas.
“We have sounded the alarm about the adverse impacts that this incorrect public policy would have on food security and ecology. Officials have chosen to ignore our communications by denying us due process of public participation,” said Alfredo Vivoni, spokesman for the United Front in Defense of the Lajas Valley. “Today we make our demand to the governor. Call the agency heads to account; and here you have to sit down to study the impacts because it is land even protected by law and regulations and the damage would be irreversible.”
They said their first communications were made three months ago through letters sent to Agriculture Secretary Ramón González and to Planning Board President Manuel Hidalgo. In addition, they said, they made the complaint publicly on Oct. 25 of last year and two weeks ago they sent a letter to the governor in which they requested a meeting.
“What is happening in Agriculture, Planning and the Energy Bureau?” said Víctor Alvarado, spokesman for the Environmental Dialogue Committee. “Why do the heads of these agencies feel that they can ignore the public? Who do you want to benefit at the expense of food security and the protection of natural resources?”
The coalition warned that two weeks ago the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau (PREB) authorized 18 additional industrial solar energy projects, of which nothing is known. But more than 60 projects have been proposed for which there is documentation, despite the lack of transparency from the agencies. The estimated area of land of agricultural value that would be eliminated if the PREB’s goals are met would be more than 14,000 acres, the environmentalists said.
“Edison Avilés Deliz, president of PREB, says that the projects are for the benefit of consumers and the environment and of each resident of the island. But the truth is that the best thing for the environment is to place solar panels on roofs. That is also what is best for residents, agriculture and ecology,” said Ruth Santiago, a member of the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council. “We want solar energy, but it must be located in suitable places. We can reverse the dependence on fossil fuels, including methane ‘natural’ gas, which is already the main and largest source of energy generation in Puerto Rico, by promoting an energy policy that is truly friendly to the environment, not one that destroys and deforests the land as they want to do.”
The coalition charged that there are four industrial projects of greatest concern that the government is promoting: Ciro ONE, in Salinas, which would potentially occupy 542 acres of land; Xzerta-Tec Solar, in Hatillo, with 203 acres; Montalva Solar Farm, in Guánica and Lajas, with 2,800 acres of land; and the most recent, Cabo Rojo Solar Farm, which would occupy 128 acres of land. Those projects have been approved without citizen participation, without an environmental impact statement (EIS) or with an EIS that dates back more than 10 years, they said.
Meanwhile, the coalition said, the PREB has not disclosed the location of the 18 newly approved projects.