Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic
Protecting Puerto Rico’s Rich Biodiversity from Proposed Via Verde Natural Gas Pipeline
On October 26, 2011, the Clinic submitted a comprehensive Notice of Intent to Sue to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers regarding a proposed 92-mile natural gas pipeline that would cross the entire island of Puerto Rico and traverse much of its coastline. This is a follow up to the comprehensive comments to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers the clinic's filed in the Spring of 2011. This ill-conceived project threatens over 300 of acres of wetlands, numerous streams and surface waters, protected natural reserves, unique limestone karst formations, ancient archaeological sites, and more than 40 federally listed endangered species, including hawks, nightjars, crested toads, boa constrictors, manatees, sea turtles, and corals. The project also poses a risk of explosion and toxic contamination in populated areas. Recent reports indicate that the Army Corps is planning to issue the permit on an expedited basis without adequately analyzing the project under the Endangered Species Act, National Historic Preservation Act, NEPA, and the Clean Water Act. The Clinic has been collaborating closely with the students and attorneys in the environmental law clinic at the University of Puerto Rico, as well as a coalition of other dedicated attorneys, citizens, conservation groups, and scientists. Read more about the pipeline project....
On December 12, 2011, A coalition of conservation groups and scientists petitioned the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service this morning to list the Coquí Llanero, a tiny tree frog endemic to Puerto Rico, under the Endangered Species Act. [Read the petition here]
This extraordinary frog, known to exist only within a small wetland complex, is under extreme threat of extinction due to the imminent construction of the Vía Verde natural gas pipeline project in Puerto Rico. Construction of the pipeline is poised to disrupt lands and waters adjacent to the species' only known habitat. On November 30, the Army Corps of Engineers issued a draft Environmental Assessment for the pipeline project, signaling its intent to approve the project as proposed. Construction for the project could begin early next year, prompting the need for immediate protection under the Endangered Species Act.
"This tiny tree frog depends on wetland vegetation that only occurs within a 600-acre parcel that is threatened by the construction of the pipeline," said amphibian expert Neftalí Ríos who first discovered the species in 2005.
"It is evident that Via Verde threatens to destroy this extraordinary frog's last remaining habitat. We urge the Service to take swift action to prevent this imminent threat," said Jaclyn Lopez, a staff attorney with the Center for Biological Diversity.
Vermont Law School's Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic (ENRLC) filed the petition on behalf of concerned conservation groups and scientists. Patrick Parenteau, Senior Counsel to the ENRLC said, "Unless the Fish and Wildlife Service moves quickly to list this species its fate may be decided before there is a chance to save it."
In October of this year, these same conservation groups filed a notice of intent to sue the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers under the Endangered Species Act pending approval of the proposed natural gas pipeline through ecologically sensitive areas in Puerto Rico. Under the Endangered Species Act the Corps must consult with the Fish and Wildlife Service to insure that the pipeline project will not threaten the survival of any of the 44 species that will be affected.
The Corps' analysis has been sharply criticized by scientists who are most familiar with these species. The 92-mile pipeline, which has provoked widespread opposition over environmental and safety concerns, would traverse the entire island of Puerto Rico. It would run through heavily populated areas as well as mountains, rainforests, natural reserves, karst regions, coastal areas and other sensitive areas inhabited by more than 40 species of endangered wildlife and plants - including manatees, hawks and snakes. Though the project's sponsor claims that the pipeline will reduce electric rates, other experts question whether it will provide any real cost savings to the Puerto Rican people. Opponents of the project maintain there are more cost effective and less damaging alternatives.
The coalition seeking an emergency listing of the Coquí Llanero includes several distinguished biologists and groups such as Ciudadanos del Karso (Citizens of Karst), Federación Espeleológica de Puerto Rico (Speleological Federation of Puerto Rico), the Center for Biological Diversity, and the Sierra Club.