House members advocate for closure of Puerto Rico’s coal-fired power plant
WASHINGTON – A coal-fired power plant in Puerto Rico that releases toxic coal ash should be shut down immediately because it is affecting the health of patients, several members of the House said.
“Whether through production or storage, there are no good results linked to coal ash,” said representative Adriano Espaillat (DN.Y.), from the Dominican Republic, who also has a similar factory.
“It infiltrates the water and the soil and contaminates part of the water, flora and fauna. The health effects we have observed from charcoal ash in pregnant women and children born in and around charcoal ash storage … have literally harmed a generation of children born in the Dominican Republic with birth defects and illnesses deadly. I hope this can be a lesson that we can learn and for which we can act, ”he said.
“When AES [Corporation] opened Puerto Rico’s only coal-fired power plant in 2002, there were around 100 cancer cases per year in the nearby town of Guayama, ”said Representative Katie Porter (D-Calif.), chair of the subcommittee House Natural Resources Monitoring and Investigations. , which held a hearing on the issue of coal ash.
“In one year, the number of cases has increased by 50%. Today, about one in 10 people in Guayama has been diagnosed with cancer. One in four people have cardiovascular disease. One in three has respiratory disease. In short, the coal plant is killing the people of Guayama, and the cause appears to be coal ash – a byproduct of coal that looks like fine-grained sand and contains toxic chemicals like arsenic, chromium and molybdenum, ”Porter said.
The coal-fired plant was opened in 2002. “When the plant was built, operators said the ash could be mixed with water and sold as backfill for construction projects,” she continued. . “Not surprisingly, there was more ashes than there was a commercial market. Thus, AES must remove dust from landfills, but the options are limited.
After unsuccessful attempts to dump the ashes in the Dominican Republic and Florida, “the only place ready to accept AES coal ashes is a site in Chesser Island, Georgia, and that site has created whole new problems – it Just 3 months ago, a barge carrying ash to Georgia ran aground off the coast of Florida, leaching 9,000 tonnes of garbage into the ocean, ”Porter said.
Meanwhile, a pile of poisonous ash lies outside the factory and the people in the surrounding area “drink contaminated water, breathe contaminated air and suffer from rare diseases,” she said. declared. “The only way to solve these problems is to shut down the plant.”
However, although the owners of the plant are prepared to shut down the plant, they cannot do so without the approval of Luma, the private company that operates the power grid. A representative for Luma was originally scheduled to testify at the hearing, but the company withdrew at the last minute, angering Porter and several other committee members.
Porter also took issue with arguments previously made by Luma and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) that the plant is inexpensive and is necessary to maintain a generating capacity base. “The evidence suggests that none of these claims are correct,” she said.
Internist Gerson Jimenez, MD, who works in Guayama, also testified at the hearing. “A study published in September 2015 by Duke University [in Environmental Science & Technology] … found that the emission activity of the coal ash was five to ten times more intense than that emitted by the coal before combustion, ”Jimenez said.
“Doctors have long noted that radiation exposure can induce the formation of various types of cancer and birth defects. Doctors who work in the southeastern region of Puerto Rico have noticed that since AES Corporation began to operating in Guayama, there has been a significant increase in respiratory and urinary tract diseases, as well as a significant increase in the diagnosis of various types of cancer. “
The representative of PREPA was David Owens, vice-chairman of the board. He said the company’s plan to focus more on “clean” energy sources requires the coal-fired plant to be decommissioned in 2027. “This plan also envisions that we have a very aggressive effort to switch to renewable technologies, ”Owens added.
This did not suit Rep. Jesus “Chuy” García (D-Ill.): “It would be unacceptable elsewhere, so why are we allowing this to happen in Puerto Rico? ” he said. “We don’t have to wait until 2027 … The solution is within reach, starting with closing the plant. We can and must move towards renewable energy.”
Representative Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) Noted that toxic landfills were often located near communities of color. “The Chesser Island landfill in Folkston, Georgia is the only place that still accepts coal ash. Is it correct ? ”She asked Ruth Santiago, an environmental lawyer in Salinas, Puerto Rico.
“Yes,” Santiago said, noting that the community near this landfill has a population of 53% people of color, including blacks, Puerto Ricans and Latinos.
Alex Epstein, founder and chairman of the Center for Industrial Progress, a consultancy firm to clients in the coal industry, was the only witness in favor of continuing to operate the mill.
“The one thing that will most help the people of Puerto Rico lift themselves out of crushing poverty is what many of you think should be eliminated, and that is reliable, low-cost fossil fuel,” he said. -he declares.
Noting that the average annual income in Puerto Rico is $ 13,000 and that energy costs are up to three times higher than in the rest of the United States, Epstein added, “Does that sound fair to you that a person earning $ 13,000 a year pays three times what you and I pay for the energy that powers our homes? I don’t think it’s fair. “