NEW YORK—Local Puerto Rican leaders and activists gathered outside Federal Plaza on Thursday to demand that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers deny the permits for a proposed gas pipeline requested by the Puerto Rico Electric and Power Authority (PREPA).
“This gas pipeline project being proposed for Puerto Rico is very destructive, very costly, and it’s unnecessary,” said David Galarza, organizer of the protest. Mr. Galarza organized a group called NY Against PR Gas Pipeline to rally support from New York City Puerto Ricans.
The protest comes days before the Puerto Rican Day Parade, which has been dedicated to the country's natural environment. The parade will march up Fifth Avenue in Midtown on Sunday, June 12, beginning at 11 a.m.
“This 92-mile gas pipeline project is going to run through the central mountain range, up and down rivers, up and down mountains, through communities, by the schools, by homes, [and] near the beachfront. It’s going to displace thousands of people from their homes,” Galarza added.
The 24-inch diameter pipeline would cut through 92 miles of the roughly 100-mile-long island. Dubbed Via Verde (Green Way) by the Puerto Rican government, but referred to as Via de la Muerte (Death's Way) by those in opposition of the project, the proposed pipeline traverses Puerto Rico from the EcoElectrica Liquid Natural Gas Terminal to the northern thermoelectric power plants, affecting some 200,000 Puerto Ricans.
“The people of Puerto Rico have already decided that this is not what they want in their yard, in their home. President Obama is about to visit Puerto Rico. He's looking for alternative energy sources. What better source of alternative energy than the island that has sun, that has air, [and] that has water. There are so many different ways that energy can be produced and this is what they have decided to do,” said Martha Loriano, representative from the New York City Chapter of the National Congress for Puerto Rican Rights.
President Obama will be the first U.S. President, since John F. Kennedy, to visit Puerto Rico in half a century next Tuesday.
The project faces fierce public opposition in the mainland. A May 1 protest this year drew over 30,000 protesters, despite torrential rain. According to a March 11 poll by El Nuevo Dia, 70 percent of the citizens of Puerto Rico oppose the project.
Despite public outcry, Puerto Rico Gov. Luis Fortuno continues the push to have the project approved. The governor instituted an energy state of emergency, which has put the approval process on the fast track. Gov. Fortuno was against the project prior to his election, supporting renewable energy sources, but has since reversed his position.
According to a statement by Casa Pueblo, a community-based organization that has been spearheading the opposition, the project is not a viable solution to the energy crisis. The main source of gas is EcoElectrica-Union FENOSA, which lacks the necessary infrastructure and has already admitted that it would take 10 years to acquire permits and modify facilities. In addition, a study conducted by specialists from the University of Peru has found that the project is not economically feasible, providing cost savings of only one cent per kilowatt-hour. PREPA, however, estimates savings of 12 cents per kilowatt-hour.
“The pipeline is a bad proposal from the environmental point of view,” said Dr. Arturo Massol, director of the Scientific and Technical Commission of Casa Pueblo and professor of biology at the University of Puerto Rico.
“We are proposing to move forward and break the dependency on oil, but also fossil fuels like natural gas,” he added.