Army Corps to Face Lawsuit for Puerto Rico LNG Shipping Project’s Threats to Wildlife, Communities
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico— The Army Corps of Engineers received a notice letter today warning that its dredging project to expand the San Juan Bay shipping channel violates the Endangered Species Act. The project would permit the passage of mega vessels carrying liquified natural gas, or LNG.
Today’s legal notice from climate and conservation groups says the Army Corps will face a lawsuit for failing to consider the full scope of the project’s harms. Those harms range from the dredging itself, which can suck up sea turtles and smother corals, to the impacts of LNG imports on people and the climate.
The Corps failed to prepare an environmental impact statement and fragmented the project into separate pieces, including the ocean dumping of dredge spoils.
“The San Juan Bay is one of the oldest constantly active nautical embayments of the Americas, having been in use during pre-Columbian periods. The dredging project not only increases the risk of harm for endangered species and cultural resources, but also goes against Puerto Rico’s renewable energy goals and mitigation efforts to eliminate greenhouse gases,” said Federico Cintrón Moscoso, director of El Puente. “Failing to consider the full scope of the project could result in irreparable damage to our natural and cultural environments as well as our communities. There are other alternatives to transforming our power system that do not require the continuing dependence on fossil fuels and risking our health and safety.”
Puerto Rico’s San Juan Bay and Condado Lagoon have been recognized by Congress as a nationally significant estuary in need of conservation. Today’s notice letter urges the Corps and wildlife agencies to revisit their unwarranted conclusions that the project will not harm endangered species. The project threatens to dispose some of the dredge spoils into Condado Lagoon Estuarine Reserve, disrupting the ecosystem. Dredging impacts include damage to water quality, corals, manatees and tourism.
Staghorn and elkhorn corals — formerly the dominant reef-building corals — have declined more than 90% since the 1970s. The legal notice cites new information about the dredging project’s threats to corals, including evidence of sedimentation killing corals in similar projects in Port of Miami and Honolulu Harbor. Sediment plumes in Florida killed more than 500,000 corals.
Deepening and widening the shipping channel for mega vessels also threatens manatees. Vessel traffic is a leading cause of death for these imperiled marine mammals.
The transition to LNG undermines the renewable energy goals of Puerto Rico. Puerto Rico’s regulators, with support from numerous stakeholders, rejected the idea of an oil-to-gas transition in favor of an oil-to-renewables transition in their August 2020 integrated resource plan’s final resolution and order. The project would allow an LNG tanker to transport 34.3 million gallons rather than 5.2 million gallons into San Juan Bay.
“Dredging a marine freeway for mega LNG ships will kill corals and sea turtles and deepen our dependence on dirty fossil fuels,” said Catherine Kilduff, a senior attorney at the Center for Biological Diversity. “The Army Corps should stop investing in infrastructure for dirty energy and halt this destructive project, which is a huge threat to wildlife and communities.”
Today’s notice letter from El Puente, CORALations and the Center for Biological Diversity is a prerequisite to a lawsuit under the Endangered Species Act.