Puerto Rico

International Treaties

Sustainable Development

Environmental Law

Case Studies

Corruption Perceptions Index


Environmental Crime Legal Framework in Puerto Rico

According to the Puerto Rico Constitution, the government's environmental public policy shall be the most effective conservation of its natural resources, as well as their utmost development and utilization for the general benefit of the community. This constitutional mandate is implemented through executive orders, statutes, regulations and municipal ordinances, including the Environmental Policy Act of 2004 (Environmental Policy Act), as amended, which is intended to protect the environment and human health. Puerto Rico historically has replicated the federal (US) environmental legal framework, given its political relationship with the US as a territory and subject to the US Constitution

Featured Legislation

2004: The air quality area (AQA) of the DNER is one of the divisions that make up the Environmental Compliance Department. Among its objectives is the protection of atmospheric quality to ensure the protection and well-being of residents now and for future generations. The environmental protection mandates result from the Environmental Policy Act, as amended (Act 416-2004) and the US Clean Air Act. The Management Office is responsible for the development and integration of activities related to environmental protection consistent with public policy. It is additionally responsible for administering the resources for the operation of the AQA programme, as well as the development and integration of the rules, regulations and implementation plans for the protection of air quality. The Permits and Engineering Division is responsible for the evaluation of permits for major stationary sources, synthetic sources, as well as minor and area sources regulated by specific federal standards. Furthermore, this division issues permits for training schools that provide courses on asbestos training. They are responsible for the implementation of the Title V permit programme under the CAA.

2010: Puerto Rico introduced the use of RECs as a mechanism to stimulate the production of renewable energy and reduce the effects of greenhouse gas emissions. Act 82-2010 was also adopted in anticipation of the EPA’s revisions of its Greenhouse Gas Reporting Programme, National Renewable Portfolio Standards and other CO2 and greenhouse gasses reduction and control systems. However, Puerto Rico has yet to develop an operational emission trading scheme to engage in the emissions trading market. Act 82-2010 established a public policy designed to reduce environmental pollutants such as carbon dioxide and other gas emissions that cause the greenhouse effect, by diversifying energy sources and energy technology infrastructure away from fossil-based fuels (principally petroleum).

2013:  Executive Order 2013-018 instructed the Puerto Rico Energy Affairs Administration (EAA), DNER and EQB to develop a scientific study quantifying the amount of greenhouse gasses generated in Puerto Rico within one year of the enactment of the executive order. The same executive order instructed the PR Energy Affairs Administration (EAA), the DNER (and then EQB) to develop a scientific study quantifying the amount of greenhouse gasses generated in Puerto Rico. On the basis of this study, local government agencies would be able to develop an integrated and sustainable strategy aimed at reducing and removing a significant amount of these pollutants.

2018: The DNER adopted a new regulation for the control of underground storage tanks (UST), repealing the former UST regulation (Regulation No. 8546 of 24 December 2014). The 2018 UST regulation addresses new federal requirements applicable to USTs set by the US EPA during 2015. The 2018 UST regulation also addresses lender liability provisions for creditors who hold security interest on a facility or property where a regulated UST is located or on USTs that are used for petroleum products.

2019: The Energy Public Policy Act was enacted. The legislation aims to:

  1. eliminate the use of coal-based energy by no later than 1 January 2028
  2. provide for the integration of prosumers through mechanisms such as net metering or tariff designs that promote behind-the-meter generation;
  3. reach 40 per cent compliance with the renewable portfolio standard by 2025; 60 per cent compliance by 2040; and 100 per cent compliance by 2050, considering the amount of distributed energy generated byprosumers;
  4. promote energy storage technologies across consumer classes to facilitate integration of renewables and capitalize distributed energy resources; and
  5. reach 30 per cent energy efficiency by 2040, for which regulation will be adopted by the PREB.

2020: The government of Puerto Rico selected a private operator, as outlined under Act 17-2019, to operate and maintain the T&D system over a 15-year term. PREPA and its future private operator for the energy grid must accommodate renewable energy, distributed generation and microgrids. Act 17-2019 requires the establishment of expedited and uniform procedures for the interconnection of microgrids of up to 5 MW of capacity. Microgrids with capacities greater than 5 MW will be subject to an approval process before the PREB, which will involve public participation.

2020: Puerto Rico approved a final IRP that incorporates a long-term plan (based on a 20-year planning horizon) for the island’s electric system, as required under Act 17-2019, for the implementation of the new energy public policy adopted under this and ensuring that the electric system facilitates the sustainable development of Puerto Rico.

Featured Case Studies: Transnational Environmental Crime, Human Security, and Biosecurity

  • Authorities have begun a probe into illegal construction on Puerto Rico’s coastline and its effects on mangrove trees. The discovery has launched a criminal investigation by Puerto Rico’s Justice Department; Jesús Manuel Ortiz has stated that these illegal operations are one of the biggest environmental crimes in the country’s history, implicating many local construction companies. Concrete homes, fences, pools and docks have been illegally built inside the Jobos Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, which is supposed to protect nearly 2,900 acres of mangrove forest. Environmentalists lament that such operations leave the country vulnerable to climate change. According to the UN Environment Programme, mangrove forests play a key role in mitigating climate change: the soils they grow in act as a carbon sink, keeping carbon from entering the atmosphere. Jacqueline Vázquez has been at the forefront of the struggle to protect the mangroves and has also been the target of threatening phone calls after calling attention to the illegal building. Aixa Pabón, director of Jobos Bay reserve accused the Department of Natural and Environmental Resources (DNER) of negligence, claiming that the pandemic has given construction companies unfettered access to lands to build and add to buildings at Jobos Bay. While hearings were delayed in early April into the matter, Rep. Joel Franqui Atiles believes this is the country’s attempt to paralyze the investigation, citing examples of state-corporate crime. Concerned residents have raised the flag in both cases, launching protests and demanding accountability from government agencies. For the Jobos Bay case, locals have been fighting against the illegal construction since 2018.