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  • Writer's pictureThe San Juan Daily Star

Organizations appeal ruling allowing Energy Bureau to approve renewables in eco-sensitive lands

The plaintiffs argued that the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau “has insisted and has consistently determined that it does not have [...] expertise or jurisdiction to apply the land use, environment, or agricultural policy to integrate renewable energy.” (Photo by Zbynek Burival on Unsplash)

By The Star Staff

Six community, municipal, environmental and ecological organizations appealed on Tuesday a lower court ruling allowing the Puerto Rico Energy Bureau (PREB) to approve the establishment of energy projects in farming and sensitive lands.

The organizations argued that the Court of First Instance’s determination to dismiss Mandamus’ appeal after ruling that the PREB has exclusive jurisdiction to determine whether industrial renewable-energy projects can be established in the Special Agricultural Reserve of Puerto Rico.

The groups stated that Supreme Court rulings have not recognized the exclusive jurisdiction of an agency and have not recognized an adequate remedy in law. Therefore, the appeal presented is the only remedy to force the PREB to comply with its ministerial duty, identify suitable places to enable the integration of renewable energy, and execute the Land Use Plan.

“The Bureau has insisted and has consistently determined that it does not have jurisdiction or expertise on the matter; that is, that it does not have expertise or jurisdiction to apply the land use, environment, or agricultural policy to integrate renewable energy. The ruling is unreasonable because it dismissed the Mandamus without mentioning or discussing the position of the Bureau, nor its previous resolutions declaring itself without jurisdiction or expertise on the matter,” the plaintiffs outlined. “The sentence constitutes a failure of justice. It leaves the parties (plaintiffs) without a forum, prevents an adjudication on the merits, and allows the continued violation of the Land Use Plan and the loss of thousands of agricultural lands classified by law as “essential.”

The plaintiffs added that the continued noncompliance with Act 6-2014 of the Land Use Plan in almost all projects before the PREB constitutes repeated violations of the Land Use Plan and the Puerto Rico Constitution over which the court has jurisdiction.

They said the PREB’s consideration of projects over the next five tranches required by the Integrated Resource Plan is pending, and therefore, the consideration of probably more than 80 industrial renewable-energy projects without first identifying the location and suitable places for those installations.

“This is despite the fact that the Public Energy Policy establishes that suitable places are non-operational landfill systems (landfills) and previously contaminated land,” the groups said.

During the judicial process, they presented the “Report on the Analysis of the Location of 17 Energy Generation and Storage Projects and their Possible Impacts on Soils with Different Levels of Protection and Risk,” signed by licensed professional planner Pedro M. Cardona Roig. The study concluded that the projects have a combined impact of 5,961.16 acres of land, of which 85% are protected lands.

The plaintiffs noted that noncompliance aggravates the vulnerability of the lives and property of people in Puerto Rico to climate change, emergencies, floods and hurricanes.

Identifying places suitable for renewable-energy projects is also necessary to mitigate the effects of climate change and emergencies, they said.

In addition, they argued that agencies must comply with the Environmental Public Policy.

“None of the industrial projects proposed to be located in the Special Agricultural Reserve contribute to the fundamental and critical component for a resilient and safe electrical system, nor mitigate damage in the event of emergencies,” they stressed.

The plaintiff organizations are the League of Cities of PR Inc., the Boricuá Organization of Eco Organic Agriculture Inc., the United Pro-Defense Front of the Lajas Valley Inc., El Puente de Williamsburg Inc., the Committee Diálogo Ambiental Inc. and Sierra Club Puerto Rico. They have the legal support of Earthjustice.

The defendants are the PREB, the Department of Economic Development and Commerce, the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority, the Office of Permits Management, the Puerto Rico Planning Board and the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico.

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