Juan C. Martinez-Cruzado, Ph.D.,
Mayaguezanos for Health and Environment
before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee
on H.R 2207
July 9, 1998

Mr. Chairman: I am Dr. Juan C. Martinez-Cruzado, former President of and spokesperson for Mayaguezanos for Health and Environment, Inc. (MHE). We thank the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee very much for this opportunity to express ourselves to you, even though we are not constituents of any of you.

Until earlier this week, I had expected to be silent today. Mr. Victor Negron, counsel to the Mayor of Mayaguez, had planned to present testimony on behalf of the government and people of Mayaguez, MHE, and La Liga Ecologica de Rincon. Unfortunately, a last-minute change in circumstances prevented him from appearing today. His written testimony is found on top of the packet that we have presented to the Committee. Accompanying his testimony is a letter from the Mayor of Mayaguez authorizing me to testify on behalf of the Municipality today. My testimony is labelled attachment 1.

MHE is a community-based environmental community organization that formed during our city's successful struggle against the establishment of a coal-fired power plant that was to use 466 million gallons of seawater per day from Mayaguez Bay. We hold our Bay in high regard, and dream of the day in which we may be able to swim again in it without getting skin rashes, ear infections, and other ailments.

We are also involved in other programs aimed at protecting the Bay. For example, we took vigorous action to improve the bay's water quality by filing a citizen suit against the tuna canneries that discharge to the bay and negotiating with them the construction of secondary and tertiary treatment facilities. This was done, I might add, despite the opposition of the government of Puerto Rico.

When H.R. 2207 was introduced in the House of Representatives last summer we opposed it very strongly because it would have given the Puerto Rico Aqueduct and Sewer Authority (PRASA) an opportunity not only to submit a new 301(h) waiver application, but to exempt it from the application revision procedures of section 125.59(d) of title 40, Code of Federal Regulations, thereby eliminating all EPA review criteria and all public participation and, in effect, leaving EPA with no legal basis to deny any new PRASA _301(h) waiver application in Mayaguez. Though that highly objectionable provision has since been removed, we are still adamantly opposed to the bill because it has the effect of retarding by too many years all actions and investments needed to save the coral reefs and improve the water quality of Mayaguez Bay.

We must stress that the history of EPA in Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands is characterized by indifference and negligence, and a much less pro-environmental position than is generally the case on the mainland. The Agency's handling of _301(h) waivers is a good example. Since that provision was first added to the Act in 1977, more than 200 applications for waivers were submitted. During that 20-year or so span, EPA has made its final determinations on all but seven of those applications. Not coincidentally, the remaining 7 are all in Puerto Rico or the Virgin Islands. In the meantime, partially treated sewage continues to be dumped into the Caribbean and the Atlantic.

As Hispanics, we are very aware of discrimination by EPA, and so we were very pleased that President Clinton signed an Executive Order on Environmental Justice in 1993. However, the problem remains a very real one for us.

In Mayaguez, it took EPA six years to conclude its enforcement discussions with PRASA. When they finally produced a consent decree (see attachment 4), EPA had agreed to sit on the law for one year, explicitly to give PRASA a chance to weaken the law that EPA is called on to enforce. The agreement of EPA to this provision is regarded by many, including us, as a preliminary approval of the proposed deep ocean outfall, despite the fact that no studies or documentations that supported its viability were available. We were also distressed to learn that EPA had helped draft H.R. 2207. In short, we believe that we have been treated worse than those who live on the mainland. We cannot trust EPA.

Even though EPA concluded seven years ago that the waters of Mayaguez Bay were already so stressed that no further impairment could be tolerated, PRASA is still discharging the same barely treated wastewater, at the same site, causing the same effects on our beaches and corals. And here we are, now considering turning the clock back to 1979 and giving PRASA another opportunity to engage in a long _301(h) waiver application procedure. The people of Mayaguez, who are sick of waiting for action, can only regard this bill as an excuse to keep doing nothing about the sewage in Mayaguez Bays and an attempt to condemn our coral reefs to a slow death.

The desire for a quick solution to this discharge is so great that even the Governor of Puerto Rico went out of his way in October, 1996, one month before the general elections, to promise to the people of Mayaguez the start of the construction of the secondary treatment plant by July, 1997 (see attachment 6). That promise, however, proved to be an empty one.

Last May, PRASA submitted an Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) for the deep ocean outfall to the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board (PREQB). PRASA put in writing and on the map (see attachment 3) the proposed point and depth of discharge. The depth, 400 feet, is within, not under, the thermoclyne, suggesting that the wastewaters will float to the surface, rather than sink to the sea bottom.

The proposed point of discharge is within waters used by humpback whales to mate and give birth, and part of the area used for whale watching activities. It is awfully close to the point where the continental shelf drops off - this area provides critical habitat to massive populations of fish larvae, and is thus a cornerstone of the local fishery.

The proposed discharge point is only 2.5 miles from beaches of Rincon and Anasco, well known as tourism spots and for their surfing activities. Most of the year, strong ocean currents would bring the pollution to those beaches. When cold fronts hit Puerto Rico in the winter months, ocean currents shift to the southeast, where a major coral reef - Manchas Exteriores - would be located 1.2 miles from the point of discharge. As a result, the people of the municipalities of Anasco and Rincon are joining the opposition to this bill. Close to 100 people attended the PREQB public hearings on June 22. Fifteen testimonies, all in opposition, were presented, including testimonies from hotel and parader owners in Rincon, fishermen in Anasco, various people from Rincon, Anasco and Mayaguez, as well as environmental organizations and marine scientists. (see attachment 8).

An engineer presented for a second time a proposal for secondary treatment followed with discharge to existing wetlands for natural tertiary treatment (see attachment 7). Land application of secondarily-treated wastewater will be less expensive than deep ocean disposal, and will remove ALL discharges from the sea.

It is crystal clear that the deep ocean outfall is the worst possible solution to a fairly straightforward problem. Undoubtedly, the approval of H.R. 2207 will mean years and years of the current conditions in which our corals are slowly dying and our children can only swim in filth. If passed, H.R. 2207 will only keep Mayaguez in the polluted conditions that it has endured for so many years. We urge you to let H.R. 2207 die.

If the bill is not enacted, secondary treatment will be in operation by 2001, according to the terms of the consent decree. Even though secondary treatment is in itself a mediocre solution, as it provides little relief to corals, this is far better than waiting another decade for PRASA to bicker with, and probably sue EPA over its _301(h) waiver application. In the meantime, our children will be able to swim in safe waters and a sound alternative, tertiary treatment, can be fleshed out.

We hope that this option will have renewed support, given President Clinton's issuance of Executive Order No. 13,089, "Coral Reef Protection." As I'm sure you know, the Order is intended to renew and deepen "the Nation's commitment to preserve and protect the biodiversity, health, heritage, and social and economic value of U.S. coral reef ecosystems and the marine environment." How ironic it would be if the Senate were to approve H.R. 2207, and send it to the President for his signature so soon after the issuance of the Executive Order.

We must bear in mind that when Congress structured the _301(h) waiver opportunity in 1977, it did it so with the clear understanding that the opportunity to seek such waivers would expire in five years. In other words, even where a sewage plant operator could persuade EPA that it complied with all of the criteria found in the law, no application for such a waiver could be accepted after December 31, 1 982. On that day, the door closed. Why? Doubtless because Congress recognized that there is something profoundly wrong with dumping barely treated waste into the sea for decades. The 92nd Congress was right. The 105th would make a terrible mistake by undercutting the only sound feature of _301(h).

Not long ago, it was commonly believed that the world's oceans were a bottomless receptacle, a universal sink, a resource with no limits. Therefore, it was thought that there was no problem with barging New York City's garbage 112 miles offshore, and dumping it onto the sea floor. The Soviet Union thought there was no problem with disposing of decommissioned nuclear submarines by dropping them onto sea floor. Many people still believe that we can harvest all the fish we please from the world's oceans, because the ocean's ability to produce protein is unlimited.

As this Committee is now very aware, all of these notions have been proven to be tragically wrong. We have come to realize that the oceans are much smaller and more fragile that we once thought. Fueled by population and technological growth, our collective ability to tamper with, if not destroy traditional ecological equilibria increases every year, often with disastrous consequences. We now know better than to think that indiscriminate dumping of waste is harmless. We can no longer claim ignorance as an excuse.

Broadly speaking, there are three ways to deal with pollution; (1) it can be prevented - this is the modern, and most cost-effective approach; (2) it can be treated after the fact, as most pollution is now handled; or (3) it can simply be dumped, untreated into a dark hole where people do not know what is going on, hoping that the pollution will never come back to haunt us. This is the waste management philosophy of the Cave Men. The Senate disserves Puerto Rico by applying this philosophy to our island, our people, our tropical waters, and the tremendous array of wildlife that inhabit them.

The 92nd Congress was right when it closed to door on 301(h) waivers after 1982. The 105th Congress would make a terrible mistake by reopening that door in 1998.

Thank you.