Protecting Virgin Islands Communities from Hazardous Incinerator Emissions
In September 2017, Hurricanes Irma and Maria struck the U.S. Virgin Islands. The resulting devastation led President Trump to declare a major disaster under the Stafford Act, a decision that authorized the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to lead recovery efforts. FEMA, in turn, placed the Army Corps of Engineers (Corps) in charge of managing the debris strewn across the islands, including downed trees and limbs. While the Corps’ efforts were helpful in clearing the debris, Island residents sought the Clinic’s help when they learned FEMA and the Corps planned to burn more than a half-million cubic yards of this debris using “air curtain incinerators” (image at right), which amount to little more than dumpster fires.
Smoke from these incinerators would have caused serious adverse health problems, particularly for already-vulnerable hurricane refugees. Therefore, our clinic, on behalf of Virgin Islands Senator Nelly O’Reilly, the Virgin Islands Conservation Society, and the Sierra Club, filed a federal lawsuit through local counsel to stop the FEMA and Corps’ plan. We also worked with our clients and elected officials to ensure Island law prohibited burning hurricane debris. As a result of these efforts, the government canceled its plan to burn debris.