Monday, April 14, 2008
Contacts: Orli Cotel, 415-977-5627 or Oliver Bernstein, 512-289-8618
Sierra Club Nominee Wins World-Renowned Goldman Environmental Prize
Puerto Rican activist Rosa Hilda Ramos awarded $150,000 prize for her work to secure clean air and to preserve open space
SAN FRANCISCO. Puerto Rican grandmother and homemaker Rosa Hilda Ramos, nominated by the Sierra Club, has been awarded this year’s prestigious Goldman prize, often called “the green Nobel.” In the shadow of polluting factories in Cataño, a city across the bay from San Juan, Ramos led her community to successfully defeat a major polluter in court. She then helped direct the fine money to the permanent protection of Las Cucharillas Marsh, one of the last open spaces in the area and one of the largest wetlands ecosystems in the region.
“Rosa Hilda Ramos is the spark that lit the fire of action in her community. When I heard her speak to the founding members of the Sierra Club in Puerto Rico I thought that we must help honor this woman and her story,” said Carl Pope, Executive Director of the Sierra Club.
In the 1990s, Cataņo, a community of 35,000 within greater San Juan, was found to have the highest rate of respiratory diseases and cancer incidence in Puerto Rico. Air pollution from nearby oil-powered electric power plants, run by the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA), was primarily responsible. The EPA knew about the high levels of pollution in the Cataņo area and had notified the Puerto Rican government that it was unsafe for residents; however, as of 1991, neither entity had taken action to address the problem. After Rosa Hilda’s mother died of cancer, she founded Communities United Against Contamination to seek justice.
Rosa Hilda Ramos and her organization helped bring the polluters to court, leading a fight that won $7 million in pollution fines. She then successfully convinced the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to use that money establish long term protection of the nearby Las Cucharillas Marsh, a critical wetland habitat that provided much-needed open space in a community plagued by industrial pollution. Its mangroves are also a critical buffer zone protecting nearby residents from the threat of flooding.
“Rosa Hilda reminds us each that we have the power within ourselves and our community to create change, for our families and for our future. She has been a model of action in Puerto Rico, and now the rest of the world can learn from her struggle and her victory,” said Camilla Feibelman, coordinator of the Sierra Club of Puerto Rico.
The Goldman Environmental Prize, now in its 19th year, is awarded annually to grassroots environmental heroes from each of the world’s inhabited continental regions and is the largest award of its kind. Puerto Rican activist Alexis Massol won the prize in 2002. In 2008, each individual Prize award will be increased from $125,000 to $150,000. Prize winners are selected by an international jury from confidential nominations submitted by a worldwide network of environmental organizations and individuals. The winners will be awarded the Prize at an invitation-only ceremony Monday, April 14, 2008 at 5 p.m. at the San Francisco Opera House and will also be honored at a smaller ceremony on Wednesday, April 16 at the National Geographic Society headquarters in Washington, D.C.