Acevedo Misleads Public On Vieques Range Clean-Up Plan… McCain Asks Bush For Status Task Force Report… House Committee Notes Territories’ Voteless Status… Acevedo Asks For $457M For Commuter Train

April 4, 2003
Copyright © 2003 THE PUERTO RICO HERALD. All Rights Reserved.

. .. Acevedo Misleads Public on Vieques Range Clean-up Plan

Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila ("commonwealth" party/D) this week only told Puerto Ricans part of the plans that the Navy publicly told Congress it would take to clean-up its combat training range on Vieques. The Navy plans to close the range by May 1.

Acevedo told Puerto Ricans about testimony that the Acting Secretary of the Navy had given to the House of Representatives’ Armed Services Committee on the issue but left out key facts. The resident commissioner said that Acting Secretary of the Navy H.T. Johnson acknowledged the Navy’s responsibility for contaminated the land and said it was working with the U.S. Interior Department, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, and the Commonwealth (Puerto Rico’s territorial government) on the matter.

Puerto Rico’s official representative in the House said that he was pleased by the statements. He also said that he had asked House Democratic Hispanic Caucus Chairman Ciro Rodriguez (TX), a member of the Armed Services Committee, to help him obtain specific information on the plans.

Acevedo’s statements were curious because the Navy has always acknowledged that it has contaminated the range during some 60 years of combat practices. The practices have also gotten substantial attention around the world.

The statements are misleading, however, because of what Johnson actually told the Committee. The Bush appointee said that the clean-up would be done based on the legally-required use of the land, further restrictions to its use will be considered, and the Navy planned to spend $2 million during the fiscal year that begins October 1 to begin to clear munitions from the range.

The law permitting the closure of the range transfers the 14,000 acre range to the U.S. Interior Department. It also requires that the 900 acre bombing area be made a "Wilderness Area" and the rest a "Wildlife Refuge." In addition, the law prohibits Interior from disposing of the land through a process by which the federal government can give up land without congressional approval.

"Wilderness Area" and "Wildlife Refuge" designations mean what there will be public access and activity restrictions on the land. Johnson’s statement suggests that restrictions greater than laws require may be imposed by regulations.

The plans are consistent with the law and expressions from leading members of both the Senate and House Armed Services Committees. But they are a disappointment to Acevedo, Puerto Rico Governor Sila Calderon ("commonwealth"/no national party) and other anti-range activists. They want a thorough clean-up of the range and for at least most of the land to be given to local ownership.

This may be why Acevedo only told Puerto Ricans a part of what Johnson said. He has repeatedly not disclosed public information that indicates that the Calderon Administration has not accomplished his goals.

Federal land contamination clean-up requirements are based on the intended use of the land. Since the range will be maintained under restricted federal ownership, the standards are lesser than if there was to be greater public use of the land under either federal or local ownership.

The $2 million fiscal year 2004 budget for the clean-up reflects this. Anti-range activists have wanted a much higher allocation to the clean-up, consistent with the use that they want for the land. ?

Under the 2000 agreement regarding the range made between Calderon’s predecessor, Pedro Rossello (statehood/D), and President Clinton, the federal government was to dispose of three-quarters of the range with Puerto Ricans having a priority claim on it.

The transfer of all of the land to Interior was passed by Congress that year but the plan to ultimately dispose of three-fourths of the range was also very much alive then. Senate Readiness Subcommittee Chairman James Inhofe (R-OK) led Congress to provide that all of the land would be transferred to Interior. But he said he did this because he did not want the ultimate disposition of the land to be determined before the referendum in Vieques that the law also provided for in 2001 on whether the range would close by this May 1 or remain in operation. He said he did not want the Viequense to vote for the range’s closure to get the valuable land.

Additionally, the Navy and Interior Departments subsequently asked Congress to permit federal disposal of three-quarters of the range.

This request was dropped, however, in 2001 when Calderon broke the Vieques agreement. Among several measures she took was to hold a referendum with an immediate end to training option and ask President Bush to change the federally- required referendum. Rather than add an immediate end to training option as Calderon requested, Bush asked Congress to eliminate the referendum requirement.

Congress did so. Members of its Armed Services Committees were so upset with what had transpired that they resolved to oppose a major clean-up and disposal of the range.

McCain Asks Bush for Status Task Force Report

One of the leading members of the Republican Party in the U.S. Senate has asked President Bush for a report on Puerto Rico’s status options so that he can propose legislation on the issue.

The request was made by Senator John McCain (AZ), who was Bush’s rival for the 2000 presidential nomination and whose State has many citizens of Latin origin.

McCain specifically asked for a report from the President’s Task Force on the Status of Puerto Rico. The task force of representatives from the White House and Cabinet agencies was established by President Clinton. An executive order that Bush continued requires it to work with the leaders of Puerto Rico and Congress on the issue until Puerto Ricans attain a governing arrangement under which they can vote for their national government officials.

Bush designated task force members, but the task force has done little substantial -- and no public -- work. McCain noted that a Bush amendment to the executive order required an initial report by August 1, 2001. The order also requires at least annual reports after that date.

White House Task Force Co-Chair Ruben Barrales has said that the August 2001 report to the President was limited to organizational matters. He has not said anything about subsequent reports.

Governor Calderon is believed to have asked Administration officials not to work on the issue. She says she wants Puerto Rico to adopt her status proposal before federal officials comment further on it.

Under her proposal, Puerto Rico would be recognized as a nation but in a permanent union with the U.S. The Commonwealth would have the power to nullify federal laws and enter into economic agreements with foreign countries. The U.S. would continue to grant citizenship and the current aid to individuals. Federal officials have said that such an arrangement is impossible and inadvisable.

House Committee Notes Territories’ Voteless Status

The House Appropriations Committee this week voted to recognize that citizens in Puerto Rico and the U.S.’ other territories were being sent to fight in Iraq even though they could not vote for the president who is sending them into combat.

The action came on a bill to provide funding for the attack on the regime of Iraq dictator Saddam Hussein. It was proposed by Representative Jose Serrano (D-NY).

Serrano is a strong opponent of Puerto Rico’s territorial status. The status does not provide Puerto Ricans with voting representation in their national government, which includes the Congress as well as the president and the vice president. He has said that he does not have a preference between statehood and nationhood for the territory but simply opposes Puerto Rico’s "colonial" status. He was born in Puerto Rico and represents hundreds of thousands of people with roots in the territory.

Acevedo Asks for $457 Million for Commuter Train

Resident Commissioner Anibal Acevedo Vila this week asked a House Transportation and Infrastructure subcommittee for $457 million to expand the new commuter train in the San Juan metro area that is planned to begin service in September.

The amount would be half the cost of the expansion which would take the train to Carolina as well as to Bayamon, Guaynabo, and San Juan as at present. The Commonwealth is still seeking $74 million to complete the train’s present route. Acevedo said the new rote would enable it to serve an additional 86,000 passengers daily. It presently is to serve over 100,000 daily.

The "Washington Update" appears weekly.

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