Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, August 16, 2022

Contact:

Federico Cintrón Moscoso, El Puente, (787) 529-5802, fcintronmoscoso@elpuente.us
Pedro Saadé Lloréns, University of Puerto Rico Law Clinic, (787) 397-9993, pedrosaade5@gmail.com
Catherine Kilduff, Center for Biological Diversity, (202) 780-8862, ckilduff@biologicaldiversity.org

Lawsuit Challenges Project Expanding Liquified Natural Gas Shipping to Puerto Rico

Dredging Project Entrenches Fossil Fuels, Harms Communities, Wildlife

SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico— Conservation and climate groups filed a lawsuit in federal district court today against the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers over its plans to expand the San Juan Bay shipping channel for massive vessels. This port expansion involves the dredging and disposal of more than two million cubic yards of sediment to deepen and widen shipping channels.

Today’s lawsuit, brought by El Puente, CORALations, and the Center for Biological Diversity, challenges the Corps’ failure to prepare an environmental impact statement analyzing the effects of tankers and a new terminal for liquified natural gas, or LNG, on environmental justice communities, corals and wildlife.

“This lawsuit will bring justice closer to the environmental justice communities located on the southwest part of the San Juan Bay. These communities from Cataño and Guaynabo have fought and dealt for years with the systemic placement of power plants and fuel terminals, which places a disproportionate burden on these disadvantaged communities whose population is primarily composed of minorities,” said Federico Cintrón Moscoso, director of El Puente. “We reject this project because it will aggravate the already acute situation and circumstances which these communities encounter day to day.”

Shortly after Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico and wiped out power across the island, a fast-track environmental assessment concluded the San Juan Bay Dredging Project would have no significant environmental effects. That decision, being challenged today, allows the Corps to deepen and widen the shipping channels to make way for massive vessels, including larger LNG tankers that are currently unable to navigate the Bay.

“By deepening the shipping channel for fossil fuel imports, this project also deepens the climate crisis,” said Catherine Kilduff, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Corps’ plan to dredge San Juan Bay is a disaster for the corals and wildlife that inhabit the sensitive estuary and for Puerto Rico’s plans to transition to renewable energy.”

The San Juan Bay dredging project drives fossil fuel dependence, impeding Puerto Rico’s commitment to transition to renewable energy. The project would allow an LNG tanker to transport 34.3 million gallons rather than 5.2 million gallons into San Juan Bay. The lawsuit states that the Corps’ failure to disclose the detrimental effects of LNG shipping and harm to neighboring communities violates the National Environmental Policy Act.

“The Corps' record indicates they committed to producing a comprehensive analysis. They failed to do this, even ignoring serious concerns submitted by other federal agencies and petroleum interests,” said Mary Ann Lucking, director of CORALations. “The many different uses of this bay have increasingly burdened residential communities for decades, but now this dredge expansion introduces a new use that itself alone presents even greater risks to residents, a nearby hospital, the capital of San Juan, an electrical plant, recreational, rescue and commercial supply chain navigation, as well as posing significant risks to the natural and historic patrimony of the people of Puerto Rico.”

The thousands of people who reside west of the main dredging areas were not considered or properly notified of the project; nor were the higher risks to those communities evaluated. The dredging project could also damage important cultural resources.

The dredging threatens to smother corals and suck up sea turtles, including endangered leatherback sea turtles — hazards that the Corps discounted. Its conclusion that endangered corals will not be harmed ignored reports that similar dredging off Miami killed half a million corals; its plan to dispose of the dredged material in a nature reserve, Condado Lagoon, which is habitat for sea grasses and manatees as well as corals, is also a subject of the suit.

RSLeatherback_turtle_NOAA_FPWC-scr
Leatherback sea turtle. Credit: Claudia Lombard, USFWS. Image is available for media use.

El Puente de Williamsburg, Inc. – Enlace Latino de Acción Climática is a group concerned about the impacts of climate change in the archipelago of Puerto Rico.

CORALations is an award-winning organization founded in Puerto Rico in 1995 to work with Caribbean communities to protect and restore their coral reefs.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

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