People win battle with Power Authority in Puerto Rico

Puerto Rico’s people won a vital environmental struggle when acting President of the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) Josué Colón publicly withdrew a request for a permit to allow the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to construct a 92-mile-long gas pipeline. Puerto Rico is barely 106 miles long and 37 wide.

Since right-wing, pro-business and pro-statehood Gov. Luis Fortuño raised the proposal two years ago, strong voices opposing the project immediately began organizing to defeat the project.

The ‘tube of death’

PREPA provides electricity, mainly generated by oil-fired units, for the whole island. One gas-producing plant owned by the foreign transnational, Ecoeléctrica, and located in the southern city of Peñuelas, provides 13 percent of Puerto Rico’s gas.

In 2010, Gov. Fortuño declared an energy crisis in the island to pressure for his pipeline proposal, which he called the “Green Way”. It would have taken gas from Peñuelas, crossing to the north through the Central Mountain range and end in three generating plants along the northern coast, ending in San Juan.

“Green Way” is an outrageous name considering the tremendous environmental destruction the pipeline would have provoked as it was to cross important aquifers that provide water to the south, rivers, protected forests areas with biodiversity, etc. It would have affected the climate and exacerbated risks from tsunamis, corrosion, floods, fires, earthquakes and landslides, affecting directly more than 200,000 people. Additionally, it would have required the expropriation of at least 400 parcelas (plots of land) (See casapueblo.org)

Studies also showed that the project, which was proposed as low-cost alternative green energy, would not lower utility bills to the consumer.

Some $80 million of the $800 million public-money budget have already been spent. Even before the project was approved, Fortuño had already spent several millions in advertising and consultants, paid to his business allies.

Since Puerto Rico is a U.S. colony, any struggle on the island is also for independence and self determination. Washington’s and U.S.-based corporations’ role is all over this project, and USACE was an accomplice. In an article last June, Casa Pueblo — the environmental organization that initiated the struggle — said, “Gov. Luis Fortuño told a newspaper this week that his administration will not withdraw the application for a permit for the pipeline because USACE has recommended not to stop obtaining such approval.” (pr.indymedia.org)

The project has also underscored the corruption that has plagued the Fortuño administration since its beginning, including payments to lobbyists and contractors.

People’s struggle

In spite of the millions wasted by the government on publicity and consultants, however, the unity and perseverance of the people finally won. Casa Pueblo, a 25-year-old environmental activists’ organization located in the center of Puerto Rico, did an outstanding job in researching, exposing and organizing the people around the island.

With the help of local and foreign scientists, engineers and environmentalists, Casa Pueblo published thorough investigations and promoted popular participation. It mobilized throughout the country with full participation of all social progressive organizations and parties, unions, community, women and students groups. It reminded many of the peoples’ struggle against the Navy bombing in Vieques.

This mobilization was a significant step forward for the class struggle. The militant UTIER union represents PREPA’s workers and was an important part of the resistance; its public position on the energy crisis reflected a deep political understanding of the situation.

In his presentation during a pipeline hearing, UTIER President Ángel Figueroa Jaramillo placed the situation within the context of the global capitalist crisis and climate change. Stressing that in Puerto Rico, “The current government has decided to deal with the challenges posed by this crisis by implementing neoliberal measures that not only do not serve the fundamental problems but that put all the weight and cost of the solution on those who have the least, increasing the gap between the economic sectors of the country.”

Both Casa Pueblo and UTIER call for the involvement of the people in the design of a new direction for the environmental policies and sustainable energy production.