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Statement by PR-SPAN to the Committee on Natural Resources of the House of Representatives of the United States

Kevin Noel Ortiz Ceballos's picture

Good afternoon, I am Mr. Kevin Ortiz Ceballos, an undergraduate student from the University of Puerto Rico Río, Piedras Campus and I appear in my capacity as ambassador of the Puerto Rico Science Policy Action Network (PR-SPAN). The PR-SPAN is an initiative created by the non-profit organization Ciencia Puerto Rico, which promotes the participation of scientists in the formulation and deliberation of public policies with impact in Puerto Rico, at the federal, state and local levels.

On behalf of the scientific community of PR-SPAN and Ciencia PR, I appreciate the opportunity to appear before this respectable Committee to present some of the topics of high priority for the scientific community in Puerto Rico.

Climate Change

There is consensus among the scientific community that global warming has been accelerated by the excessive use of oil, coal and natural gas. All these fossil fuels emit gases that cause a greenhouse effect, absorbing energy and overheating the Earth. High ground temperatures can cause extreme drought events and powerful hurricanes. Puerto Rico, has been declared a disaster zone for 4 of the last 5 years, due to extreme weather events: droughts (2014-2015), floods (2016) and the powerful hurricanes Irma and María in 2017. Currently, 90% of Puerto Rico is under the effects of a drought. A recent study developed by scientists from Puerto Rico and the United States indicates that the climate in the Caribbean will be hotter, drier and more vulnerable to extreme weather events. This study was published in November 2018 and is part of the National Climate Assessment (NCA), a report required by the United States Congress. It shows that the temperature in Puerto Rico has increased more than 1.5 ° F since 1950. The study concludes that by 2050 the Caribbean will receive 10% less rainfall. These trends require urgent action to avoid serious consequences for the economy, public health, infrastructure, agriculture, natural ecosystems and tourism.

We exhort the Committee to enact measures that encourage  both adaptation and mitigation policies. For example, in the area of ​​adaptation, policies that increase the resilience of communities to new disasters and that promote the use and proper development of land should be supported. In the area of ​​mitigation, we must invest in renewable energy sources and reduce gas emissions to slow down global warming.

Vieques Clean-up

For more than 60 years, three quarters of the Island of Vieques were used by the US Navy as military practice grounds. Although the Navy left Vieques in 2003, huge areas are still contaminated with ammunition, risking the health of the more than 10,000 American citizens living there and limiting the economic development of the island. So much so, that Vieques' old practice field is cataloged as a superfund site by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. As of today, many of the bombs and munitions in Vieques have been eliminated through open burning and open detonation, a process that involves implosing the device in the open air. Detonating the material in open air generates noise pollution, noxious and particulate gases that affect public health and the environment and that could be partly responsible for the high prevalence of cancer in Vieques. For years, Viequenses and members of the Puerto Rican scientific community have criticized the practice of outdoor detonation and demanded better cleaning practices that do not affect even more the health and the environment of the Viequenses.

Recently, a report by the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine of the United States, validated these criticisms by questioning the use of such practices and proposing alternative methods that do not threaten public health and environmental well-being. The report, entitled Alternative Methods for the Demilitarization of Conventional Ammunition, highlights that these alternative methods reduce emissions of polluting gases and therefore, their impact on the environment and public health of Vieques would be minor or none at all. It concludes that the greatest barrier for the use of these alternative methods is the lack of funds and willingness on the part of federal and military agencies to prioritize them.

We urge the Committee to support measures that prioritize the lives and well-being of Viequenses and that adopt the recommendations of the report.

Independence for the Puerto Rican Statistical Institute

In the past two years, the Institute of Statistics of Puerto Rico (IEPR) has faced a series of threats that have undermined its autonomy, credibility, and reputation. From 2017 to this date, the administration of Hon. Dr. Ricardo Rosselló Nevares has illegally removed members of the Board of Directors, attempted to dismantle the Institute and outsource its functions, and made appointments to the Board that have been questioned by the international scientific community. In January 2019, there were allegations about the politicization of the Board of Directors and their ability to act independently and free of partisan influences. The executive management of the institute became vacant on February 10, 2019 after the resignation of Dr. Mario Marazzi Santiago, who served in this role since 2007.

Members of the local and international community, the Fiscal Control Board, as well as members of Congress (including the representatives of Velázquez and Napolitano of this Committee), have expressed their concern about the capacity of the Puerto Rican government to make accurate decisions if they dont have timely, reliable and publicly accessible statistics.

We ask the Committee to officially express their interest in changing the organic law of the Institute to ensure that it is not politicized and that the necessary funds are allocated for its performance.

Importance of the University of Puerto Rico

Education must be a priority in our society, only by investing in the preparation of an educated and professional generation can we face the challenges we have as a country. This is why it is imperative to protect our academic institutions and ensure all citizens of Puerto Rico have access to quality education. The fiscal and economic crisis facing the island, together with the austerity measures imposed by the Fiscal Control Board, threaten the future of the University of Puerto Rico, the only public university in the country, the most important research center in the region, and the university system with the largest and most diverse academic offer in the Caribbean. The University of Puerto Rico is the economic and social engine that for years has served as a tool for the empowerment of communities.

For these and many more reasons, we urge this Committee to establish an immediate plan to protect our academic institutions and request that the Fiscal Control Board desists from further budgets cuts to the University of Puerto Rico.


As Puerto Rican scientists, we are interested in ensuring that any public policy that may have an impact on Puerto Rico is based on data and scientific studies. We take this opportunity to present PR-SPAN as a resource for legislators, and we put at your disposal the perspectives, the technical knowledge and the experience of the scientific community.