AOC and Bernie urge Senate to provide safer military cleanup for Puerto Rico

“After decades of bombing exercises by our military resulted in severe harm to Vieques, we owe it to our fellow U.S. citizens on the island to clean up after ourselves in a safe, responsible way.”

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Image Credit: Katherine Welles/Shutterstock Phil Roeder/Flickr (CC BY 2.0) (Licensed) Remix by Jason Reed

In a recent letter to the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Sen. Bernie Sanders, and 15 of their colleagues urged the Senate to allocate $10 million from next year’s defense budget to provide an environmentally safer cleanup of military waste on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques.

Beginning in 2003, the U.S. Navy has used open-air detonation chambers in an attempt to reduce the exposure to heavy metals and toxic chemicals, including Agent Orange and mercury. Although the U.S. military argues that open-air detonation chambers are “the quickest and most efficient way to complete the cleanup” process, a report from the Congressional Research Service found that closed detonation methods are more effective at containing pollutants and toxic emissions during military cleanup efforts.

Last week, Sens. Bernie Sanders, Richard Blumenthal, Kirsten Gillibrand, Elizabeth Warren, Tammy Duckworth, Edward Markey, Kamala Harris, Cory Booker, Tammy Baldwin, and Amy Klobuchar, and Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, José Serrano, Tulsi Gabbard, Nydia Velázquez, Ro Khanna, Darren Soto, and Deb Haaland sent a letter to the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees urging the Senate to support a House-approved amendment authorizing $10 million from the National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2020 to create closed detonation chambers to be used for the safer cleanup of military waste on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques. According to the legislators, the island has been used by the U.S. Navy for decades for bombing exercises and live-fire training, which has left Vieques contaminated with heavy metals and hazardous waste.

They wrote, “Residents and activists repeatedly condemned the open-air burning and detonation, and have expressed fears about the toxicity, human health effects, and environmental impacts of these practices. In April, 42 organizations sent a letter to the Environmental Protection Agency and Members of Congress, emphasizing that technologies now exist that offer a safer alternative to open-air burning and detonation.”

According to the EPA, Vieques is the most hazardous waste site in Puerto Rico. On April 22, forty-two organizations sent a letter demanding that the EPA and Congress to “immediately end the continued open air burning and detonation of hazardous and mixed wastes at Vieques based on the availability of safer advanced alternatives, the cumulative excessive risk to human health and the environment, and noncompliance with federal and state law requiring the implementation of available safer advanced treatment methods.”

“After decades of bombing exercises by our military resulted in severe harm to Vieques, we owe it to our fellow U.S. citizens on the island to clean up after ourselves in a safe, responsible way,” the legislators concluded. “As you finalize the NDAA, we therefore urge you to include the House provision that provides funding for safe Vieques cleanup.”

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