After years of sustained protests in Puerto Rico and within the Puerto Rican community of New York City, last week Joshua Colon, interim director of the state owned Electric Power Authority (PREPA), publicly signed a letter notifying the withdrawal of the application for the construction permit for the Via Verde project also known as the Gasoducto, that was under consideration by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.
In August 2010, Governor Luis Fortuño announced his intention to build the northern pipeline Via Verde, or “Green Way” in English. This natural gas pipeline project would have covered 92 miles, gone through 68 roads, 235 rivers and wetlands, 369 acres of water surface and affected 13 municipalities of the island. The island government said that the project would lower utility costs and be a cleaner source of energy. Opponents argued that the only thing “green” about project was it’s cost, which official figures estimated in the range of $400 million to as high as $1.2 billion. This is not a small amount of change for the U.S. colony that is in deep financial trouble with a 13.5 percent unemployment rate. Arturo Massol Deya, a professor at the University of Puerto Rico, a leader in the charge against the project called ’el tubo de la muerte,’ the pipeline of death by those opposed, argued that gas is anything but a clean source of energy especially when compared to natural energy sources Puerto Rico has plenty of like sun, wind, and water. Additionally, those against the Via Verde project wondered about the environmental impact on areas the pipeline was set to go through, including lands sacred to the indigenous Taino.
Last year saw a wave of protests against the project. In May of 2011, tens of thousands marched through the capital of San Juan questioning the way the project was being pushed with little transparency and little input from residents. For example in 2010 Governor Fortuño declared an “energy emergency” on the island, allowing him to fast track the pipeline. Puerto Ricans in the United States also mobilized against the pipeline project. Last year saw a wave of teach ins and rallies across the New York City metropolitan area. Even Congressman Luis Gutierrez weighed in against the Via Verde.
In a statement released last Thursday, Massola Deya reacted to the retraction of the permit saying , “There are times to fight and protest against threats. But there are also times to recognize when people power prevails. This was won with dignity. “
Alexis Massol González, co-founder of Casa Pueblo, a community-based organization who led the charge against the project said from Adjuntas, where the proposed pipeline would have bisected from south to north said, “The process was one of education and learning for the people of Puerto Rico and its sectors. Victory teaches us that we can change reality no matter how powerful the adversary may be.”
Puerto Rico is no stranger to long term struggle on environmental issues, many which can be linked to the island’s colonial status. In the mid 1990s, Puerto Ricans on the island and in New York organized protests against defense contractor Raytheon Corporation’s plans to install a Relocatable Over-the-Horizon Radar (ROTHR) to be used in the “war on drugs.” Most famously, after decades of protracted protests, the U.S Navy left the island of Vieques which it used as a bombing range with devastating results to the physical and human environment. Recently, the Navy declared clean up on the eastern part of the island complete despite years of work remaining. And so, the struggle continues.