July 26, 2019

Warren, Ocasio-Cortez, Colleagues Seek Defense Funding for Safe Cleanup of Toxic Military Waste on Puerto Rican Island of Vieques

The House-Passed Defense Spending Bill Includes $10 Million For Responsible Cleanup Made Necessary by Decades of U.S. Military Exercises on the Island

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, DC - United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), along with 15 of their colleagues, sent a letter to the Chairmen and Ranking Members of the Senate and House Armed Services Committees urging them to include a provision funding the safe cleanup of military waste on the Puerto Rican island of Vieques in the final National Defense Authorization Act (NDAA) for Fiscal Year 2020. The lawmakers' letter comes as the Senate and House prepare to enter conference negotiations on the NDAA.

Vieques, a Puerto Rican island located roughly seven miles off the coast of mainland Puerto Rico, is home to thousands of U.S. citizens and was devastated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria. For decades, the island was used for U.S. Navy bombing exercises and live-fire training, which left thousands of acres contaminated with heavy metals and toxic chemicals. While the military for years has been engaged in cleanup efforts on the island, those efforts have included open-air burning and detonation of hazardous wastes, causing concern among residents about the toxicity, human health effects, and environmental impacts of these practices.

The House-passed NDAA included a provision sponsored by Representative Ocasio-Cortez allocating $10 million for closed detonation chambers to be used on Vieques, a much safer alternative to open-air burning and detonation. The lawmakers' letter urged the conferees to ensure this provision is included in the NDAA conference report.

"After decades of bombing exercises by our military resulted in severe harm to Vieques, we owe it to our fellow U.S. citizens on the island to clean up after ourselves in a safe, responsible way," the lawmakers wrote. "As you finalize the NDAA, we therefore urge you to include the House provision that provides funding for safe Vieques cleanup."

Joining Senator Warren and Representative Ocasio-Cortez in sending the letter are Senators Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), Tammy Duckworth (D-Ill.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), Kamala D. Harris (D-Calif.), Cory Booker (D-N.J.), Tammy Baldwin (D-Wisc.), and Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), and Representatives José Serrano (D-N.Y.), Tulsi Gabbard (D-Hawaii), Nydia M. Velázquez (D-N.Y.), Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), Darren Soto (D-Fla.), and Deb Haaland (D-N.M.).

Senator Warren has been a steadfast champion for Puerto Rico, and has paid special attention to Vieques.

  • In May 2019, she led her colleagues in writing to the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) requesting information about problems with FEMA's provision of disaster aid to the only hospital on Vieques.
  • Earlier that month, she re-introduced the U.S. Territorial Relief Act, along with Senators Sanders, Harris, Gillibrand, Markey, and Representative Velázquez, to provide a pathway to comprehensive debt relief for Puerto Rico and other disaster-ravaged U.S. territories so they can recover and rebuild with dignity.
  • In March 2018, she joined her colleagues in writing to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to request information about the draw-down of Army Corps personnel working on electricity restoration, especially on Vieques.
  • In October 2017, she and Senator Duckworth led their colleagues in urging the Trump Administration to prioritize hurricane relief efforts on the Puerto Rican islands of Vieques and Culebra and called on the White House to swiftly secure the Superfund site on Vieques.Earlier that month, she led her colleagues in calling on President Trump to step up disaster recovery efforts on Vieques and Culebra after the islands were devastated by Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

For more information about her extensive work fighting for robust recovery efforts for Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands since Hurricanes Irma and Maria, as well as her work fighting for comprehensive debt relief for the island, visit www.warren.senate.gov/puertorico.