FEMA says environmental groups’ lawsuit should be heard in PR and not DC
By THE STAR STAFF
Puerto Rico environmental groups should sue the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in the U.S. commonwealth and not in the District of Columbia (D.C.) because there are no ties to D.C., the federal agency said in a recent court document.
The environmental groups, led by the Comité Dialogo Ambiental (Environmental Dialogue Committee), sued FEMA in D.C. earlier this year, arguing that the federal agency violated the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA) while developing its Puerto Rico Fossil Grid Entrenchment Project and the Puerto Rico Public Facilities Project. The projects were aimed at rebuilding the island electrical grid after hurricanes Irma and Maria in 2017. A few years later, Hurricane Fiona further damaged the electrical system.
The environmental groups in the case, Comité Dialogo Ambiental et al. v FEMA et al, claim the programmatic environmental assessments (PEAs) that FEMA developed violated NEPA as the federal agency didn’t consider using more resilient systems, such as solar or microgrids, in the rebuilding. The groups are asking for a declaration that the PEAs violated NEPA and for an order for FEMA to prepare an environmental impact statement. FEMA argued on July 21 that the U.S. District Court in D.C. was not an appropriate venue because all alleged wrongdoing raised by the environmental groups occurred in Puerto Rico, and there were no strong ties to D.C. other than it being the location of FEMA’s headquarters.
“This District is not the appropriate venue for Plaintiffs’ claims, which arise out of agency actions that occurred in Puerto Rico,” a lawyer for FEMA said. “Plaintiffs challenge two Programmatic Environmental Assessments (PEAs) and their corresponding Findings of No Significant Impact (FONSIs) that the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) issued under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA). Both PEAs and FONSIs were developed and issued in Puerto Rico and cover activities that will occur solely in Puerto Rico.”
FEMA said the environmental groups do not appear to dispute that they could have filed suit in the District of Puerto Rico. “Instead, they grasp at straws to connect their claims to this District,” the lawyer said. “The Court, however, must guard against the danger that a plaintiff might manufacture venue in the District of Columbia.”
The environmental groups say that D.C. is the appropriate venue because officials who earmarked FEMA funds are in Washington and former President Trump played a role in the case, among other reasons.