Democratic Rep. Luis Gutierrez of Illinois comments on the Puerto Rican government’s push for a 92-mile natural gas pipeline dubbed the “Via Verde,” or “Green Way,” despite concerns that it will cut through forests and water systems and pass near schools and residential areas. Geologists have noted the pipeline is near earthquake faults where there have been 2,500 seismic events in the last three years. Gutierrez says additional public inquiry is needed before the project should be approved and has asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to freeze construction until inquiries and impact assessments can be conducted. “We need hearings. We need public participation,” says Gutierrez. “Once you destroy the natural habitat of Puerto Rico, it isn’t something that you can recuperate.” [includes rush transcript]
JUAN GONZALEZ: Luis Gutierrez, I want to ask you about something not related to immigration.
REP. LUIS GUTIERREZ: Sure.
JUAN GONZALEZ: You’ve probably been the lone member of Congress who has been raising an issue about your native and my native land of Puerto Rico —
REP. LUIS GUTIERREZ: Yeah.
JUAN GONZALEZ: — of a natural gas pipeline that the government of Puerto Rico is attempting to construct. Could you talk about why you’ve been raising so many questions about that?
REP. LUIS GUTIERREZ: Sure, because, look, they’re violating all the rules. You know, where’s the EPA? Where is the Army Corps of Engineers? How the hell do you have someone speak about — that this is just like the construction of any other building? A natural gas pipeline? Ninety-two miles? Just going across the mountains and the rivers of Puerto Rico, across the center — 92 miles? The island is only 100-by-30 miles. And we’re going to build 92 miles and just destroy the environment of Puerto Rico?
I mean, look, I just think, if you want to — if you need to bring natural gas in order to provide energy for your electrical plants to provide electricity for the Puerto Rico — people of Puerto Rico, I get that part. OK, one fossil fuel for another fossil fuel. This one’s a little cheaper. I understand that part. But why don’t they just simply bring the natural gas to the three plants and provide the plants with natural gas? Why do we have to build?
And then, think about it a moment. They have contracts; the government of Puerto Rico lets out contracts for the natural gas pipeline. And guess who gets chosen to design the 92 miles? The skiing partner of the governor of Puerto Rico, who admits, freely admits, that his engineering company has never designed one, so he sent the design over to Houston, Texas, to be designed.
Look, we need hearings. We need public participation. Once you destroy the natural habitat of Puerto Rico, it isn’t something that you can recuperate. I think they should show us different options, and there should be sunshine. There should be transparency.
But Juan, this is part of a process during the last two-and-a-half years. The Republican governor, Republican governor of Puerto Rico, Luis Fortuño, a very strong advocate of Ronald Reagan policies, the first thing he did was fire 30,000 public employees and basically eviscerate any kind of contract between the unions and the government of Puerto Rico. Then he went and he said, “Oh, just in case they can take this case to the Supreme Court of Puerto Rico — there’s seven members there — I’m going to add two more — nine — to make sure that I have control of my party over the Supreme Court.” Then they went to the Colegio de Abogados — that’s the Puerto Rican Bar Association — the longest-standing — how would I say? — public institution in defense of interests of the people. And what did they do? They basically said, “You don’t have to be a member,” and destroyed it, went to court, sued them, and then, in the legislature, basically said, “You don’t exist anymore for legal purposes here in Puerto Rico.” You saw what they did to workers. When they went, they pepper-gassed. They closed down the Senate of Puerto Rico, when the students went to go to a public hearing in the Senate of Puerto Rico — closed it down. Can you imagine them closing down? Look, when you compare Wisconsin, Madison, Wisconsin, the Republicans were pretty laid back and acted responsibly compared to what’s going in Puerto Rico. There is a crisis of human rights. They are shutting down all the possible avenues for the people of Puerto Rico to protest and to get their issues and to seek redress. I think it’s time that people begin to stand up and talk about that.
AMY GOODMAN: Congressmember Luis Gutierrez, we want to thank you very much for being with us, Democratic congressman from Illinois —
REP. LUIS GUTIERREZ: Thank you.
AMY GOODMAN: — chair of the Immigration Task Force of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, speaking to us in front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C.