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EPA Administrator Whitman Honors Environmental Achievements in Puerto Rico; Children’s School Among Those Recognized for Environmental Accomplishments

Release Date: 04/16/2001
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(#01040) New York, New York – As part of the celebration of Earth Day, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Administrator Christie Whitman honored the University of Puerto Rico, two individuals, a montessori school and education center from Puerto Rico for their achievements toward a better environment and the protection of human health. Administrator Whitman presented the winners with EPA Environmental Quality Awards and was the keynote speaker at a ceremony held today at EPA Region 2 offices in New York City.

EPA Region 2 presents Environmental Quality Awards annually to individuals, nonprofit groups, educators, businesspeople, government officials and journalists from New York, New Jersey, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands who have made significant contributions to improving the quality of the environment in the Region. Winners are chosen by a panel of EPA employees who review nominations submitted from inside and outside the Agency.

The Winners of the 2001 Environmental Quality Awards in Puerto Rico are:


Ruperto Chaparro
Comite Barrero en Accion Rincon, Puerto Rico Sea Grant College
University of Puerto Rico

A defender of beaches, an advocate for environmental justice, a facilitator working to increase democratic participation in environmental decision-making and an educator committed to empowering local communities to protect the environment – all of these describe Roberto Chaparro. His work and commitment are respected not only by local citizens, but by other Caribbean nations that have called upon his expertise. Over the 15 years since he began his career as a marine extension agent for the University of Puerto Rico’s Sea Grant College Program, he has raised awareness of environmental threats to the island’s natural resources and engendered a sense of stewardship among its people.


Hector Russe Martinez
During his eight years as Chairman of the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board, Héctor Russe Martínez was an outstanding partner with EPA in the effort to protect and improve the beauty and quality of the environment in Puerto Rico. Prime among our cooperative projects was the development of the Comprehensive Conservation and Management Plan for the San Juan Bay Estuary, on which he was instrumental in obtaining the participation of key government representatives. He was also centrally involved in former Governor Pedro Rosselló’s initiative to build the environmental protection capacities of Latin American and Caribbean countries. Through his work he has made long-lasting contributions to environmental protection throughout the entire region.

Diego Suarez
San Juan

Diego Suárez is being honored for his work on behalf of the Enceste Campaign. Puerto Rico’s longest lasting civic campaign, the project seeks to improve the quality of life by highlighting the importance of a clean and healthy environment. Its major focus is on the proper management and disposal of garbage. Its strength is that it pursues this goal by linking proper waste management with civic pride in one of Puerto Rico’s greatest assets – its natural beauty. Through his work, Diego Suarez has raised the consciousness of all Puerto Ricans about the responsibility each of them bears for preserving and protecting Puerto Rico’s environment.


Escuela Ecologica Ninos Uniendo al Munco

Escuela Ecológica Niños Uniendo al Mundo (Ecological Schoolchildren Uniting the World) is a Montessori school that places particular emphasis on teaching its students, age 2 to 12, an appreciation of and respect for the environment. In addition to a curriculum that provides a hands-on experience to its students, the school also leads by example. Gray water is recycled; rainwater is collected for irrigation; roads are left unpaved to allow for the natural percolation of rainwater; solar power is used for lighting, heating and fans; and on-site composting fertilizes its garden. The school also partners with numerous community organizations to spread the message of respect for the environment

Mary Axtmann
Ciudadanos Pro Bosque San Patricio
San Juan

In the center of San Juan lies a 53-acre secondary forest created when a mid-century U.S. Navy housing development was closed and the land cleared and left fallow. Its central location has made it a tempting target for development proposals. Through the work of Ciudadanos Pro Bosque San Patricio, the community learned the value of letting the forest remain undeveloped. In August 2000, as a result of the organization’s work, former Governor Rossello ordered a ban on the issuance of construction permits for the forest and instructed the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources to buy the property and declare it a state forest. Today, the group continues to work on the forest’s behalf through the development of a management plan that calls for community involvement in preserving this unique San Juan oasis.