March against Vía Verde in Adjuntas
The march was organized by the Adjuntas-based Casa Pueblo community organization.
Casa Pueblo founder Alexis Massol said the proposed pipeline poses a threat to the environment and economy of Puerto Rico.
Among the environmental groups represented at the march was the Dry Forest & Ventanas Beach Coalition, which has led efforts to block a proposed windmill energy project in Guayanilla.
Among the political groups taking part in the march were the Puerto Rican Independence Party, the Popular Democratic Mayors Association, the Hostos National Independence Movement and the Working Peoples Party.
A range of labor groups including the Puerto Rican Workers Central and the Teachers Association were also taking part.
U.S. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez, a Chicago Democrat who is a vocal critic of the Fortuño administration, was scheduled to address the protesters later Sunday.
The Vía Verde project has cleared local regulatory hurdles and won provisional endorsement from the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), but remains under review by the Army Corps, which has chief jurisdiction and the final say over whether such projects can be built. The project has been endorsed by the municipal assemblies of nearly every town that the pipeline will pass through.
Vía Verde is the cornerstone of the Prepa’s strategy to decrease the island’s oil dependence to 12 percent of power generation by 2012, while boosting natural gas usage to 71 percent from its current 15 percent. Renewable sources would be boosted to 10 percent and coal lowered to 7 percent by 2014 under the plan.
Opponents express concerns over safety and environmental issues, but supporters say the risks posed by the pipeline were far lower than those posed by the necessity of shipping imported oil here to fuel existing oil-fired plants. Critics also say investment should go toward renewable energy, rather than a cheaper fossil fuel.
High electricity prices put the pinch on local consumers and drive up business costs, hurting the island’s competitiveness in landing investment.
Prepa and Fortuño administration officials say the Vía Verde project will save $1 billion in annual energy costs and cut pollution from island power plants by 64 percent when it is fully operational.
The Vía Verde pipeline would run from Peñuelas to Arecibo, and then to San Juan. The 91-mile-long pipeline would run four feet underground along PR-10 from Ponce to Arecibo, and along PR-22 from Arecibo to San Juan, where it would be sunk some 60-feet underground. It is expected to create between 4,000 and 5,000 jobs during its construction phase.
The project also includes the conversion of several Prepa oil-fired plants to natural gas.
Officials say conversion of oil-fired plants to natural gas is the quickest way to make electricity more affordable.
Prepa and the Fortuño administration have consistently defended Vía Verde as the best short-term solution to the island’s energy issues, while still pushing ahead on the alternative energy front.
Currently, the island produces about 70 percent of its power from imported oil, with the rest split evenly between natural gas and coal.