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EPA Applauds Environmental Champions from Puerto Rico

Release Date: 04/24/2009
Contact Information: Elizabeth Myer (212) 637-3860,

(New York, N.Y.) In conjunction with Earth Day, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) presented Environmental Quality Awards to representatives from 14 projects across Puerto Rico for their efforts to protect the environment. EPA Acting Regional Administrator George Pavlou presented the awards today at a ceremony at EPA’s office in Manhattan, and environmental advocate Majora Carter delivered keynote remarks.

“These exemplary environmental stewards have gone above and beyond for environmental change in local communities across Puerto Rico,” said Pavlou. “Let their extraordinary contributions remind us all that we can make our world a better place and individuals really inspire others and make a lasting difference.”

EPA selects Environmental Quality Award winners from non-profit environmental and community groups, individual citizens, educators, business organizations and members of the news media, as well as from federal, state, local or tribal governments and agencies. The honor is given to those individuals or organizations that have made significant contributions to improving the environment and public health in EPA Region 2, which covers New Jersey, New York, Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and seven federally-recognized Indian Nations. The agency receives nominations for the awards from both inside and outside EPA. For information about the Environmental Quality Awards in EPA Region 2, go to

Individual Citizen
Efrén Pérez, Cabo Rojo
Efrén Pérez has inspired people to get involved in protecting the environment for more than 30 years. In 1991, he created the non-profit organization Comité Caborrojeños pro Salud y Ambiente, responsible for developing programs that promote the conservation, protection and restoration of Puerto Rico’s natural resources. As its director, Pérez encourages the development of eco-friendly small businesses in socially and economically distressed communities. He is also an active member of his community and frequently participates in public hearings against proposed construction that may have an adverse impact on public health.

Professor Félix Velázquez Soto, Universidad de Puerto Rico in Cayey, Cayey
For 26 years, Félix Velázquez Soto has worked for the Universidad de Puerto Rico in Cayey where he is a tenured professor in the Biology Department. In addition to directing the Office of Health, Occupational Security, and Environmental Protection, he is distinguished for his dedication to volunteerism and for his initiation of educational activities in the community. He has developed an environmental symposium, an environment and health fair, a reforesting project, a recycling program, and a program for environmental protection at the university, among others.

Business and Industry
Standard Refrigeration Co., Inc., San Juan
The Standard Refrigeration Co.’s office building is a unique, sustainable facility. The 19,200 square foot building became the first building in the Caribbean to achieve Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) platinum certification. The building displays a range of energy saving features including high-efficiency lighting and fans, reflective walls and ceilings, a recycling program, an energy recovery unit, and the use of rainwater for toilets.

Environmental Education
Yamira Alemán, Desafío del Planeta Azul, Bayamón
Yamira Alemán is the author of the Desafío del Planeta Azul (Challenge of the Blue Planet) children’s storybook series, a program that promotes development of reading and cognitive skills while providing children with information about global warming. Inspired by her work as a speech therapist, Alemán recognized that books are a valuable means by which to instill enthusiasm in children. The implementation of these programs in schools invites and stimulates children to play their parts in the prevention of global warming.

Federal, State, Local, or Tribal Government or Agency
Proyecto Caguas Fluorescente, Municipality of Caguas, Caguas
The Caguas Fluorescente Project is the result of a coordinated effort between the municipality of Caguas Environmental Affairs Office, the Mayagüez Campus of the University of Puerto Rico and the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority. Over the course of the project, participants held meetings to discuss strategies for reducing energy consumption at homes through the use of compact fluorescent light bulbs, and energy-saving devices were installed in 1,094 homes.

Municipality of Manatí, Environmental Police, Manatí
In 2007, the municipality of Manatí created the first and only existing body of environmental police in Puerto Rico to oversee environmental improvement programs through a discipline-based environmental code. The police have interacted with the community through public events, education and outreach campaigns and media attention in order to generate public awareness about the importance of protecting Manatí’s natural resources.

Silkia Colón, Puerto Rico Forest Service Bureau, "Verdor 100 x 35," San Juan
Silkia Colón, a biologist at the Department of Environmental and Natural Resources in Puerto Rico (DNRE), has worked on reforestation programs for the past 10 years. In 2004, DNRE developed an island-wide reforestation program named “Verdor 100 x 35.” The program aimed to plant 4 million trees, one tree per inhabitant, to promote restoration of watersheds. Colón has spearheaded more than 50 planting events, each of which added over 500 trees to Puerto Rico’s forests. She has also conducted over 200 activities at environmental fairs, educational lectures on the importance of forests, and workshops in tree management.

Non-Profit Organization, Environmental or Community Group
Centro de Estudios para el Desarrollo Sustentable, San Juan
The Center for Sustainable Development Studies is an initiative of the School of Environmental Affairs at the Universidad Metropolitana created as a response to the pressing need to conduct research and education projects that foster sustainable development. The center has created many projects to help achieve its mission to advance knowledge on the environmental, social, and economic consequences of the transformation of the urban and natural landscape. In 2009, the center started the “Sustainability of Land Use in Puerto Rico” research project to measure and monitor the impacts of land use changes for long-term sustainability.

Club de Pesca de Gurabo, Gurabo
The Club de Pesca de Gurabo, Inc. is committed to educating the community on ways to conserve natural resources and improve the environment. This mission has been conducted through the organization of several volunteer cleanup activities along the Carraízo reservoir basin. With help from the public and private sectors and the community at large, the Club de Pesca de Gurabo has already collected more than 60 tons of waste, rubble and garbage. Their cleanup events have attracted public attention, furthering efforts to guide and educate the general public about the importance of preserving water resources and improving the environment.

Colegio San Ignacio de Loyola, San Juan
Colegio San Ignacio de Loyola’s National Honor Society has successfully implemented a recycling program in which students, families, and faculty members actively participate. It partnered with the University of Puerto Rico, Recinto Universitario de Mayagüez to develop and implement renewable energy technology, including the installation of solar-thermal air conditioners and photovoltaic cells across campus. Currently, Colegio San Ignacio de Loyola employs the use of sun-powered post lights on school grounds.

Community Recollection Centers for Used Motor, Transmission and Hydraulic Oils, Bayamón
The Automotive Technicians and Mechanics Association of Puerto Rico in alliance with Oil Energy System and the Toyota Foundation created community recollection centers for used motor, transmission and hydraulic oils to avoid the contamination of waters, vegetation and soils. The project promotes environmental awareness to future generations of automotive technicians and mechanics through education efforts; guarantees that used motor oils will be properly handled; and, increases the recycling rate for used motor, transmission and hydraulic oils.

Frente Ambiental Amigos de la Naturaleza, Patillas
Luis Francisco Baerga Colón is the president of the non-profit organization Frente Ambiental Amigos de la Naturaleza Patillas, Puerto Rico Inc. In June 2008, Act No. 92 was passed after legislative lobbying by this community-based organization, designating the wetlands of Punta Viento an ecological reserve. The natural reserve of Punta Viento is a zone of more than 500 acres of wetlands with a high ecological value. On behalf of the organization’s conservation efforts, this area will now be utilized to educate the public about the importance of preserving Puerto Rico’s natural resources.

Movimento en Apoyo a Nuestros Tesoros Ambientales (MANTA), Vieques Conservation and Historical Trust, Vieques
Movimento en Apoyo a Nuestros Tesoros Ambientales (MANTA) is an educational program initiated by the Vieques Conservation and Historical Trust. MANTA is a summer program that provides school children with the knowledge, tools, and leadership skills necessary to raise awareness about the conservation and preservation of the island of Vieques. MANTA has been incredibly well-received by children and parents who are increasingly concerned about the conservation of Vieques’ unique archeological, physical and ecological environment.

Press and Media
Sara Justicia Doll, Primera Hora, Cataño
Sara Justicia Doll’s dedication to environmental reporting has helped to make the environment an issue that every paper in Puerto Rico covers. Her stories for the newspaper Primera Hora detail a wide range of environmental concerns.