Once upon a time, there was a city ruled by a cruel despot. The day of his death, the people celebrated on the streets. Everyone, except a woman weeping in a corner. A man asked her: “Why do you cry? The despot is dead!” And she answered, “I’m not crying for the one who left but for the one who’s coming.”
This ancient tale reminds me of what’s taking place in the streets of Puerto Rico. Hundreds of thousands of islanders marched in San Juan to demand the resignation of now former Governor Ricardo Rosselló after the publication of his and his cronies’ obscene, homophobic and misogynist chat comments.
The fury of the people ejected him from power, but he did not leave without making sure his successor was Secretary of State Pedro Pierluisi, whose nomination was later nullified by the Puerto Rico Supreme Court as unconstitutional.
Exposed to these poisons through their air and water, the Guayama population suffers from the worst cancer rates in Puerto Rico, followed by the neighboring communities of Santa Isabel, Arroyo and Salinas.
The oil industry also has been fanning the fires of corruption for decades.
Leaving this succession soap opera aside, this drama has left no doubt that a great portion of the Puerto Rican ruling class is stained by corruption, including the one fueled by the oil, coal and gas industries.
As a lobbyist, Pierluisi defended the interests of AES, the owner of the only coal-burning plant on the island and one of its worst polluting sites. His work and that of at least two of his chatting cronies, Ramón Rosario and Alfonso Orona, were crucial in the defeat of a bill that would have banned AES from continuing to store coal ash at the island’s dump sites.
AES’s mountains of coal ash at the Guayama plant contain a long list of deadly elements, such as lead, cadmium, mercury, arsenic and uranium. Exposed to these poisons through their air and water, the Guayama population suffers from the worst cancer rates in Puerto Rico, followed by the neighboring communities of Santa Isabel, Arroyo and Salinas.
The oil industry also has been fanning the fires of corruption for decades. In a class action suit, four of the world’s largest oil companies are accused of defrauding $1 billion from the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA). The case focuses on the purchase, with the blessings of the oil companies, of the cheapest, most polluting oil fuel available, known as sludge, instead of a more refined, less poisonous option. Clients, nevertheless, were charged the price of the more expensive oil.
Several officials are implicated in the purchase of millions of sludge oil barrels that violated federal environmental standards. The obsolete generating stations that burn this dirty fuel have spewed more than 100 million pounds of sulfur dioxide on the fence-line communities, turning PREPA into the worst polluter in a region that also includes New York and New Jersey.
This addiction to fossil fuel money has opened a third front that threatens Puerto Rico’s ambitious clean energy commitments even further. The island’s Integrated Resource Plan proposes the construction of three fracking gas import terminals as part of the transition away from coal and oil.
The solution to fixing the country’s most expensive and vulnerable electric grid is the sun, source of clean and endless energy. In order to prevent another catastrophic power collapse, the island needs to build a resilient system based on solar energy microgrids. This would turn Puerto Rico into a national leader in the development of clean, decentralized technologies that would benefit all the island’s inhabitants and prepare it for the next María.
The sun, furthermore, is the greatest disinfectant and would help put an end to corruption in Puerto Rico.
Javier Sierra is a Columnist with Sierra Club.
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