Environmental Clinic Prevails in Natural Gas Pipeline Battle in Puerto Rico
October 25, 2012
Vermont Law School's Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic recently prevailed in its two-year battle against a proposed 92-mile natural gas pipeline that threatened fragile ecosystems in Puerto Rico.
Three months ago, the ENRLC submitted comments that demanded the denial of the Via Verde pipeline's application for a Clean Water Act Section 404 permit based on recent developments and new information. Late on Oct. 12, the Puerto Rican government withdrew its application for the permit and said it was pursuing other alternatives to supply natural gas to the power plants and other facilities that the $450 million pipeline was intended to serve.
"It's unusual for such significant proposals to be abandoned," said Associate Professor Doug Ruley, director of the ENRLC. " Although the government's statement was terse and likely was influenced by multiple factors, there is no doubt that a substantial factor was the unyielding opposition of our clients in Puerto Rico and the clinic's steady advocacy."
The ENRLC's work included an emergency petition to list the coqui llanero frog as endangered (the coqui was listed three weeks ago), a comprehensive Notice of Intent to Sue under the Endangered Species Act and numerous sets of lengthy and detailed comments to various agencies throughout the process. The coquí llanero was threatened with imminent extinction from the proposed pipeline, which would have damaged wetlands critical to the frog's only known habitat.
"We particularly congratulate Pat Parenteau (professor and senior counsel at the ENRLC), Teresa Clemmer (former acting ENRLC director), Michelle Walker (former ENRLC fellow) and all of the student-clinician teams for their tireless work on this case," Ruley said. "Via Verde exemplifies the benefits of clinical legal education. Our students immersed themselves in this project, our clients received high-quality representation and Puerto Rico no longer is threatened by this destructive pipeline."
The ENRLC served as co-counsel to the Environmental Law Clinics at the Inter American University School of Law and the University of Puerto Rico School of Law. They represented a coalition of community and conservation group and local residents that included the Citizens of the Karst, the Puerto Rican Ornithological Society, the Speleological Federation of Puerto Rico, the Vegabajeños Supporting Sustainable Environmental Development, the Sierra Club, the Utuadeño Committee Against the Gas and the Center for Biological Diversity.
"This ill-conceived project would have done enormous damage to Puerto Rico's priceless natural and cultural heritage, displaced hundreds of families in the path of the pipeline and compromised public health and safety across a wide swath of the island," Parenteau said. "Credit for this victory goes to a broad coalition of non-profit organizations, community leaders, scientists, lawyers and ordinary citizens who campaigned for over two years to bring the truth to light."
The pipeline, which provoked widespread opposition over environmental and safety concerns, would have bisected the island, running through 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, while providing no significant cost savings to the Puerto Rican people, the ENRLC said.
Watch a video about the ENRLC's work on the pipeline.