Date of Award

Winter 12-18-2019

Degree Name

Bachelor of Arts (BA)


Environmental Studies


John van Buren


In September of 2017, disaster struck the territory of Puerto Rico when Hurricane Maria made landfall on the island. Although the storm itself caused tremendous damage to both the residents and the environment of Puerto Rico, the inadequate responses of both the United States federal government and local Puerto Rican politicians greatly exacerbated this devastation. This paper examines the efforts of the American government to ameliorate the issues created by the storm through the lens of environmental racism. The introduction will explore the events of the hurricane in order to give the reader context. Chapter 1 draws from the Millennium Ecosystem Assessment and employs data from third-party research organizations and media outlets such as the Washington Post and the Associated Press in order to demonstrate the extent of the wreckage caused by the storm. Chapter 2 explains the theories and research completed in the topics of environmental racism and environmental justice. Chapter 3 then delves into the history of the often contentious relationship between the United States and Puerto Rico in order to contextualize the current situation in the territory. Chapter 4 explores the policies that influenced the United States government’s actions following the storm. It also contrasts these decisions with the government’s responses to other natural disasters such as Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey. This juxtaposition serves to highlight the underlying racial and political motivations present in the case of Hurricane Maria. Chapter 5 examines the state of the island’s current healthcare system as well as the manners in which the United States’ actions have affected the health of the Puerto Rican population. In Chapter 6, I offer recommendations based on evidence presented in chapters 2 through 5. While I will not attempt to prove whether or not Hurricane Maria was caused or exacerbated by climate change, several of my suggestions will be based upon the consensus by numerous scientists and meteorologists that the phenomenon is currently playing a role in the occurrence of Caribbean storms. I will also discuss the role that grassroots movements should play in the environmental justice movement in Puerto Rico. Finally, I will give suggestions on how the United States should proceed in its relationship with the territory and conclude that the United States needs to prove its willingness to provide assistance of all sorts to Puerto Rico if it wishes to maintain control of the island.