H. R. 1645
To construct a specialty hospital and toxins research center on the
island of Vieques, Puerto Rico, and for other purposes.
IN THE HOUSE OF REPRESENTATIVES
April 15, 2011
Mr. ROTHMAN of New Jersey (for himself, Mr. PIERLUISI, Mr. THOMPSON of Mississippi,
and Mr. GUTIERREZ) introduced the following bill; which was referred to the
Committee on Natural Resources, and in addition to the Committees on Energy
and Commerce and the Judiciary, for a period to be subsequently determined
by the Speaker, in each case for consideration of such provisions as fall
within the jurisdiction of the committee concerned
To construct a specialty hospital and toxins research center on the
island of Vieques, Puerto Rico, and for other purposes.
Be it enacted by the Senate and House of Representatives of the United
States of America in Congress assembled,
SECTION 1. SHORT TITLE.
This Act may be cited as the `Vieques Recovery and Development Act of 2011'.
SEC. 2. FINDINGS.
The Congress finds the following:
(1) Vieques is an island municipality of Puerto Rico, measuring approximately
21 miles long by 4 miles wide, and located approximately 8 miles east of
the main island of Puerto Rico.
(2) Vieques is home to nearly 10,000 United States citizens, about 65 percent
of whom live below the Federal poverty line.
(3) The average monthly unemployment rate in Vieques was 21.9 percent in
2009, 17.7 percent in 2010, and 15.7 percent in January 2011.
(4) Residents of Vieques are currently served by a single primary and urgent
care facility, the Susana Centeno Family Health Center, and residents must
travel off-island to obtain many essential medical services, including most
types of emergency care.
(5) The predominant means of transporting passengers and goods between Vieques
and the main island of Puerto Rico is by ferry boat service, and over the
years the efficacy of this service has frequently been disrupted by launch
delays and mechanical problems.
(6) The United States Navy maintained a presence on the eastern and western
portions of the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico, for nearly 60 years and
used parts of the island as a training range during those years, dropping
over 80 million pounds of ordnance and employing virtually every type of
ammunition and ordnance available to the Navy since World War II.
(7) Residents living on the areas expropriated by the Federal Government
for the Navy's use were required to relocate to the central portion of the
(8) According to records of the Federal Government and testimony of Navy
personnel, the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico, has high levels of heavy
metals and has been exposed to chemical weapons and toxic chemicals, including
napalm, agent orange, depleted uranium, white phosphorous, arsenic, mercury,
lead, aluminum, cadmium, antimony, magnesium, TNT, PCBs, RDX, barium, cyanide,
solvents, and pesticides. All of these weapons and chemicals have been deployed
on the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico, in the interest of training for the
defense of our Nation.
(9) The Navy established the Vieques Naval Training Range in eastern Vieques,
which consisted of two facilities: (1) the Atlantic Fleet Weapons Training
Facility, which was used for ship-to-shore and aerial bombing exercises,
and comprised a Live Impact Area and a Secondary Impact Area; and (2) the
Eastern Maneuver Area, which was used primarily for ground-based training
involving smaller munitions.
(10) The Navy also established the Naval Ammunition Support Detachment in
western Vieques to store munitions used in its training in eastern Vieques
and to dispose of obsolete or damaged munitions.
(11) In 2000, the Navy reported that it had used 1,862 tons of ordnance
annually in training exercises on Vieques from 1983 to 1998.
(12) In the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2001, Congress
directed the Navy to close its facilities in western Vieques and to transfer
approximately 4,000 acres of that property to the Municipality of Vieques,
approximately 3,100 acres to the Department of the Interior, and approximately
800 acres to the Puerto Rico Conservation Trust.
(13) In the National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2002, Congress
authorized the Navy to close its training facilities on eastern Vieques
if equivalent training facilities were made available elsewhere and directed
the Navy, upon closure, to transfer the nearly 15,000 acres of that property
to the Department of the Interior.
(14) In January 2003, the Navy certified to Congress that alternative training
sites had been identified and confirmed that training operations would cease
on Vieques by May 2003.
(15) The Navy continues to be responsible for administering and funding
the cleanup of munitions and contamination that resulted from its past activities
on Vieques, subject to oversight by the Environmental Protection Agency
(EPA) and the Puerto Rico Environmental Quality Board, an agency of the
government of Puerto Rico.
(16) Following the closure of the Navy's facilities in 2003, public concerns
were raised as to how funding for the cleanup of Vieques would be prioritized
among the hundreds of other contaminated military installations in the United
States for which the Navy is responsible.
(17) Factors motivating these concerns included the safety risks from explosives
in munitions that had accumulated over decades of live-fire training, and
the potential human health and ecological risks from contaminants that may
have leached from munitions and other hazardous wastes into the environment.
(18) In February 2005, EPA listed Vieques on the National Priorities List
(NPL) of the most hazardous sites in the United States, elevating its priority
for federally-funded cleanup.
(19) The NPL site listing includes the former Vieques Naval Training Range
in eastern Vieques and the former Naval Ammunition Support Detachment in
western Vieques, as well as off-shore areas where munitions may have entered
the water during past training exercises.
(20) As of August 2010, the Navy had recovered and destroyed 34,642 live
munitions on Vieques.
(21) Through the end of Fiscal Year 2009, the Navy had spent a total of
$120.4 million to support the cleanup of its former facilities on Vieques,
and had estimated that an additional $269.9 million would be needed from
Fiscal Year 2010 into the future to complete all planned cleanup actions.
(22) The Navy has estimated that remedial actions to clean up unexploded
ordnance, other discarded munitions, and munitions constituents will not
be completed until Fiscal Year 2020, and has estimated that the entire cleanup
of Vieques will not be completed until Fiscal Year 2045.
(23) Although cleanup efforts are underway on Vieques, island residents
have continued to express concern about the health impacts from long-term
exposure to environmental contamination as a result of decades of Navy operations
(24) In 2007, after exhausting their administrative remedies, over 7,000
residents of Vieques brought a lawsuit against the United States under the
Federal Tort Claims Act (FTCA), seeking monetary compensation for damages
to their health that they claimed were caused by exposure to contamination
resulting from past Navy operations.
(25) The residents of Vieques have based their tort claims on EPA-documented
past violations by the Navy of Clean Water Act discharge permit requirements
and other environmental statutes; findings by independent researchers who
have attributed elevated levels of contaminants on Vieques to decades of
Navy operations; insufficient notification by the Navy of the release of
these contaminants into the environment; and higher rates of occurrence
of certain diseases among residents of Vieques, including cancer, cirrhosis,
hypertension, and diabetes, as reported by numerous researchers.
(26) The residents of Vieques originally filed their claims in the United
States District Court for the District of Columbia, which subsequently transferred
those claims to the United States District Court for the District of Puerto
(27) In July 2009, the United States filed a motion to dismiss the claims
based on a lack of subject matter jurisdiction under the Federal Tort Claims
Act (FTCA), asserting that the Navy's training activities on Vieques fell
within the Act's `discretionary function exception', which is generally
intended to prevent the United States from being held liable for the performance
of actions involved in carrying out the role of the Federal Government and
which immunizes the United States for acts or omissions of its employees
that involve policy decisions, even when such decisions cause harm to United
(28) In March 2010, a district court judge in the United States District
Court for the District of Puerto Rico, in a brief sympathetic to the people
of Vieques, nonetheless granted the United States' motion to dismiss based
on lack of subject matter jurisdiction, without ruling on the merits of
plaintiffs' substantive claims.
(29) Plaintiffs have appealed that decision to the United States Court of
Appeals for the First Circuit, and such appeal is currently pending.
(30) In a report published in November 2009, the Puerto Rico Cancer Registry,
then a part of the Puerto Rico Department of Health, found elevated levels
of various cancers among residents of Vieques relative to cancer levels
in mainland Puerto Rico.
(31) Numerous other non-Federal studies of Vieques in the last 2 decades
have found elevated levels of contaminants in the hair samples of Vieques
residents, as well as in the island's soil, food supply, and water.
(32) A 1999 study conducted by Dr. Colon de Jorge reported that 34 percent
of the residents of the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico, have toxic levels
of mercury in their blood stream, 55 percent are contaminated with lead,
69 percent are contaminated with arsenic, 69 percent are contaminated with
cadmium, 90 percent are contaminated with aluminum, and 93 percent are contaminated
(33) A February 2001 analysis by Carmen Ortiz Roque, MD., M.P.H., M.S. reported
that the residents of the island of Vieques, Puerto Rico, when compared
to the inhabitants of the main island of Puerto Rico, are suffering with
30 percent higher rates of cancer, 381 percent higher rates of hypertension,
95 percent higher rates of cirrhosis of the liver, and 41 percent higher
rates of diabetes.
(34) Such analysis also reported that the infant mortality rate on the island
of Vieques, Puerto Rico, when compared to infants born on the main island
of Puerto Rico, is 25 percent higher.
(35) The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) conducted
a series of Public Health Assessments on Vieques from 2001 through 2003,
examining the potential for human exposure to contaminants through the air,
soil, drinking water supplies and groundwater, and consumption of fish and
shellfish, and issued a finding of `No Apparent Public Health Hazard' for
each of these pathways.
(36) The ATSDR's analytic methods and findings with respect to Vieques have
been subject to criticism.
(37) Critics of ATSDR's methods and findings include Dr. John P. Wargo,
the Chair of the Yale College Environmental Studies Program and an expert
in assessing human exposure to hazardous substances.
(38) Dr. Wargo, in his 2009 book entitled `Green Intelligence: Creating
Environments That Protect Human Health', expressed the view that the Federal
Government has yet to conduct a `scientifically defensible study' with respect
to environmental contamination on Vieques and its possible health effects
on the island's residents.
(39) Various non-Federal researchers who have studied Vieques in recent
years have concluded that environmental contamination levels are higher
than the ATSDR has reported, that the potential health hazards are therefore
likely to be greater overall than the ATSDR has found, and that there is
a more definitive link between the Navy's past activities and the various
health problems that have been cited by the island's residents.
(40) In March 2009, the House Committee on Science and Technology's Subcommittee
on Investigations and Oversight held a hearing in which members of the Subcommittee
questioned the ATSDR's findings about Vieques, raising questions about the
manner in which ATSDR conducted its Public Health Assessments and the accuracy
of the conclusions reached by the agency.
(41) In the summer of 2009, ATSDR indicated that it would re-examine its
prior findings in order to determine whether the available evidence revealed
a greater risk of human exposure to contamination than previously understood.
(42) In a November 2009 progress report, ATSDR announced that it expected
to `change some of its earlier conclusions regarding the safety of environmental
exposures on Vieques'.
(43) ATSDR further announced in its November 2009 progress report that it
expected: to recommend biomonitoring to determine whether persons living
on Vieques have been exposed to harmful chemicals, and, if so, at what levels
those chemicals may be in their bodies; to work with health officials from
Puerto Rico to conduct more in-depth evaluation of health outcomes; to work
with community members and health officials from Puerto Rico to issue science-based,
precautionary recommendations to protect public health; and to work with
partners in Puerto Rico's health care community to encourage improved access
to health care for residents of Vieques.
(44) In a February 2008 letter to the Governor of Puerto Rico, then-presidential
candidate Barack Obama stated that his Administration would `closely monitor
the health of the people of Vieques and promote appropriate remedies to
health conditions caused by military activities conducted by the U.S. Navy
on Vieques' and `work to evaluate and expand the existing land use plan
for the former U.S. Navy lands to prioritize improving the lives of the
Island's residents and the sustainable economic development of the people
(45) The March 2011 Report by the President's Task Force on Puerto Rico's
Status stated that `better health care facilities are an urgent need for
the people of Vieques,' recommended that `HHS should work closely with the
governments of Puerto Rico and Vieques to improve the quality of health
care for the residents of Vieques,' and concluded that `a needs assessment
should be completed to identify the most effective and efficient way to
ensure that the people of Vieques receive the care, including expertise
in environmental medicine, that they need'.
(46) The March 2011 Report by the President's Task Force on Puerto Rico's
Status further stated that `there is much that the Federal Government can
do to improve the quality of life for the people of Vieques'.
SEC. 3. CONSTRUCTION OF A SPECIALTY HOSPITAL AND TOXINS RESEARCH CENTER.
(a) In General- The President, in consultation with the Puerto Rico College
of Physicians and Surgeons of the University of Puerto Rico, Surgeon General
of the Navy, Director of the National Institutes of Health, Director of the
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Administrator of the Environmental
Protection Agency, and other appropriate agencies (as determined by the President),
shall acquire or convert real property located within the Municipality of
Vieques for the purpose of constructing a specialty hospital and toxins research
(1) with respect to the specialty hospital, provides treatment for the sick
and injured, including treatment of illnesses and diseases that are prevalent
in the Municipality of Vieques, such as cancer, hypertension, and heavy
metals poisoning; and
(2) with respect to the toxins research center--
(A) studies the existence and prevalence of toxins in the Municipality
of Vieques and the impact of such toxins on plant, animal, and human life;
(B) provides specific recommendations to the local government and residents
of the Municipality of Vieques regarding the prevention of exposure to
harmful levels of toxins in air, water, and food supplies; and
(C) coordinates research activities and shares findings on an ongoing
basis with medical personnel at the hospital constructed pursuant to this
(b) Operations- The President, or his designee, shall operate and maintain
the quality of the hospital and research center described in subsection (a)
on a continuing basis. In operating such hospital and research center, the
President, or his designee, shall consider the needs of the residents of the
Municipality of Vieques, taking into account the chemical weapons, toxic chemicals,
and heavy metals used by the Department of the Navy on the island of Vieques
and the potential health impacts associated with use of such weapons, chemicals,
(c) Partnerships- The President, or his designee, shall encourage partnerships
with research universities for the purpose of building interest in researching--
(1) the many health problems experienced by the residents of the Municipality
of Vieques; and
(2) the long-term effect that the use of the weapons, chemicals, and heavy
metals described in subsection (b) may have on such residents.
(d) Authorization of Appropriations-
(1) IN GENERAL- Subject to paragraph (2), there are authorized to be appropriated
such sums as may be necessary to carry out the provisions of this section.
(2) LIMITATION OF APPROPRIATIONS- The President may not carry out the provisions
of this section or section 4 until the administrative claims filed on May
18, 2009, by the Mayor of the Municipality of Vieques for money damages
against the Department of the Navy have been settled or compromised pursuant
to section 2672 of title 28, United States Code.
SEC. 4. DEVELOPMENT AND IMPLEMENTATION OF A COMPREHENSIVE FEDERAL INTERAGENCY
PLAN FOR THE MUNICIPALITY OF VIEQUES.
(a) Federal Interagency Plan-
(1) IN GENERAL- Not later than 1 year after the date of the enactment of
this Act, the President shall develop a comprehensive Federal interagency
plan to ensure that the residents of the Municipality of Vieques benefit
from improved access to Federal programs, Federal discretionary funding
sources, and Federal agency technical assistance.
(2) PLAN CONTENTS- The Federal interagency plan described in paragraph (1)
(A) a timeline, if appropriate, for the implementation of any specific
recommendations, with respect to the island of Vieques, provided by the
President's Task Force on Puerto Rico's Status;
(B) additional specific recommendations and instructions to Federal agencies
to utilize resources within their existing authority to assist the people
of the Municipality of Vieques in more expeditiously achieving their own
economic development, education, environmental, infrastructure, health
care, and community goals, including a specific plan under which the Federal
Government shall convey to the Municipality all lands that are administered
by the Secretary of the Interior as of the date of the enactment of this
Act and are determined by the Administrator of the Environmental Protection
Agency to be appropriate to be placed under control of the Municipality;
(C) a requirement for the development of and entering into memoranda of
understandings between the Municipality and individual Federal agencies
for the purpose of specifically defining duties and responsibilities with
regard to the implementation of such plan.
(b) Appointment of Ombudsman-
(1) IN GENERAL- The President shall appoint a Federal ombudsman for the
Municipality of Vieques who shall monitor the development and implementation
of the Federal interagency plan described in subsection (a).
(2) REPORT- Not later than 2 years after the date of the completion of the
Federal interagency plan described in subsection (a), the Federal ombudsman
shall submit to Congress a report that includes--
(A) a status update on the implementation of such plan; and
(B) recommendations for optimizing the impact of such plan.
SEC. 5. SETTLEMENT OF CLAIMS AGAINST THE UNITED STATES FOR CERTAIN RESIDENTS
OF THE ISLAND OF VIEQUES, PUERTO RICO.
(a) In General- An individual shall be awarded $10,000 for a claim made under
this section if such individual--
(1) can demonstrate that he or she was a resident on the island of Vieques,
Puerto Rico, during or after the Department of the Navy's usage of chemical
weapons, toxic chemicals, and heavy metals for military training operations
on the island; and
(2) filed a claim on or before the date of the enactment of this Act against
the United States Government for personal injury, including illness or death
arising from such usage of such weapons, chemicals, and metals.
(b) Additional Award Amounts Related to Specified Diseases- Any individual
(1) meets the requirements under subsection (a); and
(2) submits written medical documentation that he or she contracted a specified
disease during or after the Department of the Navy's usage of chemical weapons,
toxic chemicals, and heavy metals for military training operations on the
island of Vieques, Puerto Rico,
shall, in addition to the amount awarded under subsection (a), be awarded
$50,000 (in the case of an individual who is diagnosed with 1 such disease),
$80,000 (in the case of an individual who is diagnosed with 2 such diseases),
or $110,000 (in the case of an individual who is diagnosed with 3 or more
(c) Appointment of Special Master- The President shall appoint a special master
to resolve expeditiously any disputes between the Attorney General and an
individual with respect to the determination of an award under this section.
(d) Guidance- The Attorney General may use as guidance the Radiation Exposure
Compensation Act (Public Law 101-426) and any regulation prescribed to interpret,
implement, or administer such Act--
(1) in determining whether a claim filed under this section meets the requirements
of this section;
(2) to establish procedures whereby individuals may submit claims for payments
under this section; and
(3) for any other reason that the Attorney General determines that such
guidance is necessary, except that the provisions of chapter 171 of title
28, United States Code (relating to settlements and compromises of claims),
shall apply to claims cognizable under this section.
(e) Source of Award- A payment of an award made to an individual under this
section shall be payable out of any moneys authorized for appropriation under
section 1304 of title 31, United States Code, as if a settlement had been
entered into between claimants and the Government.
(f) Release- The acceptance by an individual of a payment of an award under
this section shall--
(1) be final and conclusive on the individual;
(2) be deemed to be in full settlement of the claim described in subsection
(3) constitute a complete release by the individual of such claim against
the United States and against any employee of the United States acting in
the course of his employment who is involved in the matter giving rise to
(g) Specified Disease Defined- In this section, the term `specified disease'
means any disease that is life threatening, chronic, or is related to heavy