Sunday, February 7, 2010

Judith Enck, Regional Administrator of Region 2 visits Puerto Rico

On February 4th, 2010, a host of environmentalists had the opportunity to meet the new Regional Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). She was appointed to this position on November 5, 2009. The states and territories included in Region 2 are New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and seven federally recognized Indian Nations. Region 2 oversees programs, initiatives, and issues related to air and water pollution, industrial discharges, toxic substances, pesticides, protection of streams, lakes and the ocean, solid and hazardous wastes, the cleanup of chemical spills and abandoned hazardous waste sites, and much more. This meeting presented the unique opportunity for representatives from Sea Grant UPRM, Sierra Club PR, CORALations, UPR-Rio Piedras, local EPA representatives, Cuidadanos Del Karso, Asociación Nacional de Derecho Ambiental, Inter American University, and more to meet Mrs. Enck and discuss the many environmental issues plaguing the island.

The issues raised illuminated a harsh reality of the numerous problems affecting Puerto Rico’s natural resources. Most of the issues addressed were related to water quality problems, i.e. waste treatment plant inefficiencies, wetland and watershed destruction, the disposal of coal ash, karst degradation groundwater pollution, and air quality problems, ie. degraded air quality from coal-fired power-plants, downwind exposure, and unexploded ordinance and health effects (just to name a few). After the round table discussion, Judith interrupted the glum feeling that surrounded the table after listing these numerous problems with a few positive notes. She mentioned that she will do everything in her power, including working with major politicians to pass through congress a ‘bottle bill’ (aka container deposit laws) that have been a proven, sustainable method of collecting bottles and cans for recycling. Typically, the refund value of the bottle or can is 5 or 10 cents, which provides a monetary incentive to return the item for recycling. Mrs. Enck mentioned that she would want a 10 cent incentive. Everyone in the room agreed that this would be a great way to curb the prolific littering that inundates the roadways and beaches around the island principally consisting of plastic and glass containers.