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PREPA To Comply With Environmental Laws; Pay $6 Million For Penalties and Environmental Projects
Release Date: 01/10/1997
(#97039) San Juan, P.R. -- The Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) will pay $1.5 million in civil penalties, undertake additional environmental projects and relief valued at over $4.5 million, and come into full compliance with numerous environmental statutes under a settlement with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) lodged in U.S. District Court this morning in San Juan, Puerto Rico. PREPA was cited by the U.S. Government in October, 1993 for multiple violations of air, water, underground storage tank and spill control regulations, and hazardous substance reporting requirements.
Today's settlement, which covers the violations identified in the 1993 lawsuit, includes several unique features. The settlement requires that PREPA install a computer-telemetry system that will allow continuous monitoring of the operation of PREPA's boilers directly from EPA's office in San Juan. PREPA will fund hazardous materials response training for local fire departments. In response to suggestions from groups representing communities located near the PREPA plants, the authority will undertake the preservation of natural habitat near two power plants. Also at the suggestion of community groups, PREPA will, as additional injunctive relief, hire an environmental expert to work with affected communities. The settlement stipulates penalties that would automatically be imposed if PREPA fails to comply with many of the settlement's provisions.
"A central element of the settlement is the package of environmental projects that will directly benefit affected communities," said Jeanne M. Fox, EPA Region 2 Administrator. "EPA worked closely with community groups during this enforcement case because we felt strongly that the people most affected by the violations should receive the benefits of any environmental projects."
"Every American has the fundamental right to be protected from environmental pollution, regardless of where you live or how healthy you are," said Steve Herman, EPA Assistant Administrator for Enforcement and Compliance Assurance. "This settlement requires PREPA to both correct the damage it caused and take steps to prevent future environmental problems, thereby providing significantly cleaner and healthier air and water for the people whose homes are near the power plants." violations."
"Today's settlement marks the beginning of the end of PREPA's longstanding environmental violations and will help to assure a cleaner environment and improved health for all Puerto Ricans," said Lois Schiffer, Assistant Attorney General in charge of the Justice Department's Environment and Natural Resources Division. "I am extremely excited about the environmental projects PREPA has agreed to perform, because they were formulated in direct consultation with the communities of Puerto Rico most affected."
PREPA estimates that, once it has met all of the requirements in the settlement, the Authority will have spent more than $200 million on upgrading its equipment and operations. PREPA started many of the actions necessary to come into compliance during the three years of negotiations following filing of the 1993 suit. As a result, PREPA has already made significant progress implementing the requirements of the settlement.
PREPA has made commitments that will bring it into compliance and, in some cases, beyond compliance with federal clean air regulations. Such undertakings include major equipment upgrades, instituting a continuous monitoring program to check boiler operations and compliance, regular inspections, constant fuel quality checks, and a rigorous preventive maintenance program.
The settlement also mandates that PREPA burn fuel with a sulfur content no greater than 1.5%; for three of its four generating plants this was a reduction of more than one third from what PREPA was allowed to burn under existing law. PREPA came into compliance with this requirement soon after EPA's lawsuit was commenced. In addition, PREPA must hire an independent compliance auditor to periodically check its compliance with clean air requirements. PREPA has completed many of the equipment upgrades and is required to take all other necessary steps to comply with the settlement by May 1998.
The settlement commits PREPA to protect surface and ground water by coming into compliance with discharge permits at all its plants and to submit quarterly reports detailing actions taken to comply. These permits limit the amount of pollution that is allowed to be discharged into the waterways of Puerto Rico. At most of its plants, PREPA is carrying out extensive construction projects and treatment plant improvements in order to meet the final discharge limits. Interim limits, set to be as protective as possible, must be met while these construction projects are underway. All such projects are to be completed by 1998.
In addition, EPA will ensure that groundwater is protected by requiring PREPA to submit records on underground storage tanks at all PREPA facilities. These records will be reviewed to ensure that tanks no longer in service are properly closed.
EPA is also requiring PREPA to take numerous steps to prevent spills and to better respond to emergencies at all of its facilities. The settlement requires PREPA to submit Spill Prevention, Control and Countermeasure Plans for each of its facilities to EPA within three months after entry of the settlement, and to hire a full-time coordinator to oversee spill-prevention construction activities. The settlement also requires PREPA to submit all required information about hazardous chemicals present at its facilities within two months after entry of the settlement. This information aids local emergency response personnel in the event of a chemical spill or other accident at a facility.
PREPA is committed to reporting any releases to the National Response Center or local emergency response agencies, as required by federal law.
The settlement includes a number of additional projects, which go beyond PREPA's obligations under the law. In one, the direct result of community input, PREPA will invest $3.4 million over a five-year period to acquire and permanently preserve the natural habitat of Ciénaga Las Cucharillas, near its Palo Seco and San Juan (Puerto Nuevo) Power plants. PREPA anticipates that it will work with and through the Conservation Trust of Puerto Rico to carry out this project, which was proposed by Communidades Unidas Contra la Contaminacion (CUCCo), an environmental and community organization centered in the Cataño area. PREPA will also improve the Puerto Rico Fire Department's ability to respond to chemical emergencies at any facility on the island by providing $100,000 worth of in-depth hazardous materials response training.
Another element of the injunctive relief requires PREPA to spend at least $1 million over a five-year period to hire an independent "Environmental Review Contractor" to work with community organizations in the areas near PREPA plants to assist them in maintaining up-to-date information about PREPA's compliance with the terms of the settlement, and to provide training and independent technical expertise. This project addresses two separate proposals made by Comité Pro Rescate del Buen Ambiente en Guayanilla, a community group in Guayanilla, Puerto Rico.
For more information contact:
EPA Caribbean Environmental Protection Division
1492 ponce De Leon Avenue
Santurce, PR 00909
Voice: 787-729-6951 FAX: 787-729-7747 E-Mail: firstname.lastname@example.org