Since 1980 the Puertorrican government has tried to instate an incinerator twice, but the project was halted by groups of citizens who fought against it. Energy Answers has now applied to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Utilities Service hoping to win government financing to construct a municipal waste incinerator in Arecibo. Though it’s billed as a “waste-to-energy” facility, the project is little more than an incinerator. It would burn 2,100 tons of solid waste every day, sending plumes of toxic ash and pollutants, including lead and dioxins, into an area that is already plagued by noxious air. Even without a new incinerator, the region’s pollution already violates the Clean Air Act’s lead standard. Arecibo is the site of many polluting industrial activities, including a battery recycling operation, which resulted in Arecibo being declared a non-attainment zone by the U.S. EPA for exceeding limits on lead pollution in the air. Their operation will take 2.1 million gallons per day from Reserva Natural Caño Tiburones and will pollute Puerto Rico's most developed agricultural region with ashes. Energy Answers claims to be fully equipped with filters to control air pollutants but there have been studies that show that this chimneys will leak nano toxins called dioxins which are linked to many deformations, cancer and even genetic mutation. Also this dioxins will eventually land on grass eaten by the cattle in the area and poison even a broader spectrum of people. When Energy Answers prepared its environmental impact statement, it failed to consider the project’s effect on species living outside of the immediate construction site of the project. But the incinerator’s toxic air emissions would travel far beyond the immediate footprint of the incinerator and pose a risk to wildlife in the region’s state forests and conservation areas.
The company claims it will handle approximately 2100 tons of solid waste each day and studies of neighboring communities have demonstrated that they do not have the capacity to fulfill its waste necessities. Because of this the government is trying to force contracts to municipalities on the North side of the island to make them manage their waste thru Energy Answers. This type of project needs to be approved by the U.S Corps of Engineers (USACE), EPA, and Departamento de Recursos Naturales y Ambientales de Puerto Rico (DRNA). Besides the project will cost 650 million dollar which is another step closer for bankruptcy for Puerto Rico.
The incinerator is one of the most expensive and polluting ways to address waste, as well as one of the most expensive and polluting ways to produce electricity. Despite substantial public opposition and the availability of more economically beneficial and less environmentally harmful ways to handle waste—and the fact that Puerto Rico’s current electricity generation is already over capacity—the USDA is still considering the project. Even the municipalities whose waste would be burned in the incinerator are opposed to the project.