Posts Tagged ‘gasoducto’

One of the biggest complaints from anyone who follows the topsy-turvy political world of Puerto Rico—the oldest colony in the Western Hemisphere—is that very little news about the island regularly appears in the mainstream media.

That is beginning to change.

With student strikes at the University of Puerto Rico that led to a Department of Justice investigation into serious allegations of police abuse, a White House report that calls for a two-step plebiscite to finally resolve the island’s colonial relationship with the United States, and a natural gas pipeline construction proposal by Republican and pro-statehood governor Luis Fortuño, Puerto Rico is in the news more and more.

Puerto Ricans protesting the proposed GASODUCTO pipeline

Today, The Washington Post ran a rather lengthy Associated Press article about Fortuño’s controversial natural gas pet project—known locally as the GASODUCTO—and how the pipeline has found strong opposition on the island, both for its environmental issues as well as charges of political favoritism and corruption.

As the article states:

Puerto Rico’s governor is proposing to solve soaring energy prices on this oil-dependent U.S. island with a massive natural gas pipeline that would cross some of the territory’s most fragile ecosystems and archaeological sites.

Gov. Luis Fortuño has made the $450 million project a central goal of his administration and he insists it is a safe, environment-friendly way to lower utility bills. Critics say the 92-mile (148-kilometer) pipeline will tear up lush green mountains and expose people living near it to deadly explosions.

The pipeline proposal, which Fortuño has dubbed “The Green Way,” also has sparked corruption allegations. The largest contract so far has gone to an engineering firm with no pipeline construction experience that is owned by a childhood friend of the governor. Fortuño has denied any conflicts of interest.

The irony of this current project is that when Fortuño’s predecessor and pro-Commonwealth governor Aníbal Acevedo Vilá proposed a shorter pipeline, the Fortuño administration helped stopped the project in mid-2009.

Puerto Rican Governor Luis Fortuño

The article further explains that Fortuño is playing typical politics, including the award of a bid without any public RFP process:

This time around, Fortuño is promoting an even larger pipeline proposal, despite similar resistance from activists. Even before he announced the project last August, his administration had awarded about $27 million in contracts — without public bids — for preliminary studies, according to documents filed with Puerto Rico’s Comptroller’s Office.

The documents show the largest contract, worth $9.6 million, went to Ray Engineers PSC, owned by a childhood friend of the governor, Pedro Ray Chacón. Fortuño took a ski trip with Chacón before he became governor, said Ray spokesman Jose Cruz.

While Fortuño has said contracts for preliminary research didn’t require an open bid, senators from the island’s main opposition party are demanding an investigation into how the contracts were awarded.

“This entire process raises serious concerns that lacerate the confidence that people have in their institutions,” Puerto Rico Sen. Cirilo Tirado said in a statement.

Support for the GASODUCTO has also occurred. As the articles states:

At least a dozen municipalities have approved resolutions supporting the project in concept, and it has also been touted by the National Puerto Rican Chamber of Commerce and the local Association of Engineers and Surveyors.

“The failure to diversify energy sources has been the kiss of death for Puerto Rico,” said the engineers’ association president, Miguel Torres.

Despite all the political debates, the pipeline only needs final approval from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, which has been awaiting studies from the island’s energy authority and analysis from other federal agencies before making a ruling.

According to government officials, island residents—who currently pay 21 cents per kilowatt hour as opposed to US mainland residents who pay just 10 cents per kilowatt hours—will save 30% in their electric bills if the GASODUCTO were to be completed.

The details of the GASODUCTO plan are as follow:

  • The pipeline would start in the southern part of the island, where, according to the AP, “where billions of cubic feet of liquefied natural gas would be imported and regasified.”
  • The pipeline would cut through the island and head eastward towards the capital of San Juan.
  • The pipeline would also run through hundreds of rivers and wetlands, as well as some of the island’s archaeological sites. As the AP article describes:

It would traverse 235 rivers and wetlands, cut through more than 60 miles (100 kilometers) of the island’s northern Karst region and possibly affect up to 32 endangered species, including the Puerto Rican parrot, crested toad and boa, according to the Corps of Engineers.

The pipeline also would cross 51 communities, placing as many as 23,000 families in danger of possible explosions, according to the nonprofit environmental organization Casa Pueblo de Adjuntas, which is leading the charge against the pipeline.

Archaeologists say the pipeline would run through historic sugar mill ruins and across petroglyphs carved centuries ago by Taíno Indians.

Opponents of the GASODUCTO held a May 1 demonstration that brought out 30,000 demonstrators. In addition Casa Pueblo has also launched an online petition, which has generated over 8,000 signatures so far. The petitions can be viewed online on this link.

US Congressman Luis Guitérrez

The final twist is all this is the ongoing political battle between Repulican Fortuño, seen as one of the new Latino darlings of the FOX NEWS circuit, and Illinois Democrat Luis Gutiérrez, a Puerto Rican who has been a public critic of the Fortuño administration, having lambasted Fortuño on the floor of Congress a few times this year.

As the article states:

[Gutiérrez] has called the governor’s publicity push for the pipeline, which includes “Green Way” billboards erected around the island, an “Orwellian ad campaign.”

Gutierrez noted that as a gubernatorial candidate, Fortuño had said it would be a “grave mistake” to depend on natural gas.

“Now, he enthusiastically supports not just gas pipelines, but a much bigger, more environmentally disruptive and more expensive pipeline,” Gutierrez said.

Fortuño responded by reminding the congressman that natural gas kept him warm during the bitter East Coast winter.

“I hope he’s not pretending,” Fortuño said, “that he and the people who are in Congress have more rights than those of us who live in Puerto Rico.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Asssociated Press article made several typographical errors in the spellings of Fortuño, Vilá, and other Spanish surnames with accents and tildes. We edited those corrections in our blog post.

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US Congressman Luis Gutiérrez

In response to his public comments on the floor of the United States House of Representatives denouncing the plans for a natural gas pipeline being slated by the Republican and pro-statehood administration of Governor Luis Fortuño, Illinois Democrat Luis Gutiérrez, who is of Puerto Rican descent, has begun to feel the heat from the Puerto Rican press about his ties to Chicago’s natural gas industry.

Puerto Ricans protesting the proposed GASODUCTO pipeline

The Vocero, one of the many newspapers on the island, reported last week that Gutiérrez regularly receives campaign donations from companies with ties to natural gas and energy. As the newspaper states in its article “The Two Faces of Congressman Gutiérrez”:

According to the website, www.opensecrets.org, as recently as 2010, the Congressman received $ 7,500 from Exelon Corp., the U.S.’ largest nuclear operator, which is dedicated to the distribution of electricity and natural gas.

Also in 2008 Integrys Energy Group (a natural gas consulting company), donated $ 1,000 to his campaign.

According to the website, Gutierrez also received $ 10 000 from the Operating Engineers Union, an organization that supported the policies of George W. Bush to open the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge in Alaska to increase oil production, which received strong opposition from environmentalists.

Gutiérrez’s opposition to a pipeline is apparently limited to only Puerto Rico, as the Democratic Congressman from Illinois has not shown resistance to pipelines running through the city of Chicago, where he lives. He also showed no resistance when the administration of [former Puerto Rican Governor] Aníbal Acevedo Vilá began to build a pipeline to the south of the country and aimed to build another route to the north.

The cost of electricity in Illinois is less than half that of Puerto Rico. According to the Federal Energy Information Administration, the cost of the residential tariff is 10.63 cents per kilowatt hour (kWh) 7.98 cents commercial, industrial and 6.5 cents per kWh.

Currently, there are about six natural gas companies operating in Chicago and at least 26 interstate pipelines and eight intrastate natural gas companies across the state.

The companies include: People’s Gas, Interstate Gas Supply of Illinois, Inc., Santanna Energy Services, U.S. Energy Savings Corp., Spark Energy, LP, and Ambit Energy.

Vía Verde (Green Way) is the project introduced by Governor Luis Fortuño to reduce the cost of electricity in Puerto Rico and, in turn, reduce dependence on oil. The government expects savings of $1 billion per year on fuel purchases.

Gutierrez took part [on May 1] in an anti-Green Way demonstration organized by Casa Pueblo in Adjuntas.

In his speech he said: “I am here with you because I think we should stand up and make ourselves heard and I am convinced that we must stop this pipeline.”

He said it is not the use of natural gas “but to stop what, to all appearances, seems to be a ‘mega-con’, the ‘money-pipeline’, the pipeline that leads directly from the treasury bills of the People of Puerto Rico to line the pockets of the [Fortuño] administration’s friends. ”

For his part, Secretary of the Interior, Marcos Rodriguez-Ema, told El Vocero that “Gutiérrez did not object in 2008 when Aníbal Acevedo Vilá wanted to make the southern gas pipeline, because he was receiving money from gas distribution companies. Now he opposes a pipeline because he is paying back the favors of his donors, who are members of the Popular Party.”

As you can see, there is never a dull moment in Puerto Rican politics.

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Here are the latest remarks about Puerto Rico by US Congressman Luis Gutiérrez against the energy policies of Governor Luis Fortuño:

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