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The Washington Post Company

There Will Always Be Vieques: Puerto Rico Concerned About Cleanup

By Judy Sarasohn

May 29, 2003
Copyright © 2003
The Washington Post Company. All rights reserved. 

There will always be Vieques.

The Navy's controversial bombing range on the island of Vieques, off Puerto Rico, was officially closed earlier this month. Puerto Rico celebrated the Navy's departure and the land's transfer to the Interior Department. But Puerto Rico continues to be concerned that the Defense Department might avoid the responsibility for cleaning up the hazardous waste left on the range, such as unexploded ordnance and other toxic materials.

So the governor's office hired some lawyer-lobbyists with the Washington law office of Willkie Farr & Gallagher: Russell L. Smith, a former GOP counsel to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and E. Donald Elliott, chairman of the law firm's worldwide environmental law department and general counsel of the Environmental Protection Agency during the first Bush administration.

Along with environmental lobbyists for other groups, Smith said Puerto Rico is worried that language proposed for the Defense Department authorization bills is ambiguous enough to relieve the agency of responsibility for cleaning up the range and other government sites.

"There was a concern that a lack of clarity" in the legislation could result in a delay in the cleanup if Puerto Rico had to go to court over Vieques, Smith said.

Neither of the bills passed by the House and the Senate included the debatable language, but the lobbyists will keep an eye on the conference committee to make sure the language doesn't end up in the final version as the panel reconciles the two measures.

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