EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson acknowledged the need to clean up the island of Vieques in her address at the national convention of the League of United Latin American Citizens (LULAC) last week.
In her speech at LULAC, Jackson explained that EPA wants "to have a few long-overdue conversations, and get moving forward together on critical environmental issues." She noted the "tragic consequences" of "what happens when you are on the margin of the environmental conversation."
Hitting the nail on the head, she continued, "We see it on Vieques Island, where we need the continued involvement of the community of people who live on that island, to ensure it is cleaned up."
The people of Vieques would like nothing more than to ensure that their island is cleaned up, and quickly. The U.S. Navy's 60-year bombardment of the island left behind a toxic legacy of contamination and disease that has so far been largely neglected by the government. Vieques residents suffer from astronomical rates of cancer, birth defects and other pollution-related illnesses, and most do not have access to appropriate health care facilities to address their needs.
The responsibility of ensuring a clean up of the island rests on the shoulders of EPA Administrator Jackson, who must follow through on President Obama's campaign pledge to address the health crisis among Vieques residents and to pursue a full, timely and just resolution to the ongoing contamination problems.
There is a strong and growing public outcry for justice for Vieques, as evidenced by the recent resolutions from the United Nations and both houses of the Puerto Rican legislature supporting the people of Vieques in their struggle with disease, contamination and neglect.
Last Thursday, Vieques Mayor Evelyn Delerme Camacho called on President Obama to fulfill his campaign pledge, and urged the administration to settle two lawsuits filed by the island municipality and its residents against the U.S. Navy for health damages resulting from the Navy's six decades of bombing. Mayor Delerme Camacho noted that the contamination has devastated the island's tourism and fishing industries, and worsened the quality of life for all residents.
Lisa Jackson mentioned yesterday in her speech at the Department of Justice that she understands the "effects that these [environmental contamination] cases can have on a community."
Jackson told the DOJ lawyers that, beyond the "very clear message that EPA is back on the job" which she has delivered frequently in recent public addresses, she wants the public to know that "EPA is leading the way." She pledged a renewed commitment to "the rule of law," and stated "science must once again be the determining factor in EPA decision making."
Jackson's remarks to DOJ and LULAC are an encouraging indication that she plans to make good on the agency's mission of safeguarding human health and the environment.
But the people of Vieques are still waiting for the newly restored EPA to address their plight. Doing the right thing in Vieques would serve as a great example of EPA's renewed commitment to science and the rule of law.
Thus far, the Obama Administration has demonstrated a warped sense of honoring this commitment. The Department of Justice recently flaunted the archaic defense of sovereign immunity in an attempt to thwart the federal lawsuit claims of Viequenses.
The White House must intervene to ensure that the Navy is held accountable for their decades of damage, and the people of Vieques receive their due justice.
And Administrator Jackson should demonstrate her new pledge to lead by moving quickly to make President Obama's campaign promise to clean up the island a reality.
Administrator Jackson and President Obama, the ball is in your court now.