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Public Participation in Environmental Decision-Making: Its Performance in the Establishment of a Waste-to-Energy Facility in Puerto Rico Open Access

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The main characteristic of any democratic government is the participation of its people in its businesses, affairs and issues. Providing adequate opportunities for public participation in government, and especially in environmental, decision-making process, is essential in order to build the consensus needed to help solve the environmental problems. This consensus is important in places like Puerto Rico, a small size island with many environmental problems, one of them being Puerto Rico's waste generation, management and disposal problem.Puerto Rico's most important public participation provisions for environmental decision-making are contained in the Uniform Administrative Procedure Act, the Environmental Public Policy Act and the Regulation for the Presentation, Evaluation and Processing of Environmental Documents. However, there are many concerns from the environmental community regarding these provisions because the conditions under which they operate do not appear to satisfy the democratic principles contained in the Constitution of Puerto Rico. This situation is of particular importance for the environmental leaders because the waste management issue in Puerto Rico has been worsening throughout the years and it appears that it has been solely addressed through written plans, studies and laws without effective action toward its solution. One of the main concerns of the environmental community is the lack of real action during the last decades what will force the government to adopt drastic measures which are not necessarily those supported by the majority of the people. Another issue of concern is that when the government goes through the process of fast track decisions or has to make decisions based on scientific knowledge, it is the public participation which becomes compromised in the process.This paper discusses the provisions for public participation in environmental decision-making contained in several laws and regulations in Puerto Rico. It addresses the concerns of some stakeholders in environmental issues in Puerto Rico and presents their vision of what an adequate participation should be along with recommendations to improve people's participation in environmental decision-making. This analysis includes the findings from interviews of citizens who have been involved on public participation issues, specifically on solid waste management issues in Puerto Rico.

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