Thursday, March 30, 2006

There is Something Wrong

From: Alice Murray
March 30, 2006

* When the interest of 1 company is allowed
to preside over an entire community’s interest;
* When 8 places of wor ship: Baptist,
Pentecostal, Anglican, Seventh – Day; Adventist,
Muslim, Catholic must be destroyed to make way
for a proposed industrial site to be set up in the interest of 1
* And when several community centres:
schools, a youth camp, a health centre, a
heritage site must be cleared for a project which the people do not
* For a project which is 100% owned by a foreign company.
There is Something Wrong
* When a company which has not received a
clearance certificate to build its plant has the
arrogance and insensitivity to place an
advertisement in the newspaper indicating that it
is recruiting; Have the directors and management of Alcoa no

There is something wrong
* When a Government and state-owned agency
come into a community in the middle of the night
and destroy thousands of acres of forest;
* When our precious wild animals, God’s
creatures too, are not even given the time to
escape and look for alternative habitat;
* When we continue to destroy our heritage:
our forests, our wildlife, our wetlands– also gifts from God;
* When the Go vernment is the main offender.
Has this Government no sense of decency?

Alcoa's Cedros Challenge

The Andy Johnson Column
March 30, 2006

OFFICIALS of the aluminium company, Alcoa, which is moving to set up the dreaded smelter plant in Chatham, say they are convinced that those who are now in opposition to what they have in mind will come around to seeing things their way.

Opposition, they say, is the norm. But when the facts are known people will realise that their fears had been groundless. These confident sentiments are drawn from comments in one daily newspaper on Monday, the morning after the biggest show of force to date against those proposals which seem more and more like a fait accompli. Those officials were speaking "via teleconference" the report said. Their comments would have had to be understood by those in opposition, through the much-maligned media, while one of the issues in large evidence with this proposed plant is that there is yet to be the kind of face-to-face dialogue, one side towards the other.

"We want to hear from stakeholders and deal with concerns in a constructive way," Randy Overby was quoted as saying as part of that teleconference discussion with a reporter. Mr Overby is described as the Trinidad and Tobago Team Leader for the smelter project.

He had been reported earlier in the piece as saying that his company was "disappointed and concerned at the misinformation which was being propagated" in this country about the smelter project.

Last Sunday's "religious walk" along the main road from Chatham Junction to a rallying point called Foodcrop Road, was held against the backdrop of an absence of direct interface between the proponents and the opponents of this project.

"We have not been able to reach them by protesting, that is why we chose to use today as a religious walk where we would all turn to God together," one of the leading organisers of Sunday's event was quoted saying in another newspaper on Monday. In that newspaper, the acting Chairman of the ruling party told reporters the people of Chatham have nothing to fear.

The smelter was nothing but "good news" for the people of Chatham, he said, and he meant therefore for Trinidad and Tobago. He said the plant, estimated to be built at a reported cost of $2 billion, would utilise only "the latest technology" to preserve the environment and that the state, through its various agencies, would insist that "only environmentally friendly operations will be encouraged."

Except, of course, that those 1,000 or so residents, supporters and sympathisers who engaged in the one-mile walk on Sunday remain to be convinced about any of this. Again, as well, neither the Government nor any of its ministers, agencies or representatives, has been engaging in any direct conversations with the residents on this matter.

Placards revealing such rebuffs as "No to pollution," "No to toxic waste," and "Let us Live," speak loudly to how those residents feel. They don't want the plant, any which way it is presented. They have come up with alternative proposals for the development of their area, proposals they believe are better suited to the nature of the environment and the eco-system in that part of the country. They are still waiting for those proposals to be given the courtesy of constructive engagement by the decision makers.

Catholic nuns, representatives of various other Christian denominations and a Muslim cleric were among the marchers on Sunday, along with representatives of other civic, community and pressure groups from other parts of the country. The National Foodcrop Farmers Association was there, as was a contingent from the Oilfields Workers Trade Union and others. A coalition of interests lent their support to the ordinary residents of the twin groups which put it together, the Chatham/Cap-de-Ville Environmental Protection Group and Cedros Peninsula United.

Randy Overby was expressing certainty on Monday that such anxiety and opposition that were on display last Sunday would continue until the people "get a chance to see how Alcoa operates." He felt assured that "over time, people will become more comfortable with the project."

For this to happen, Mr Overby must make a greater effort to engage directly with those "stakeholders" on the united Cedros Peninsula ground. But that's only a start. The people have to be convinced that what they propose as a model for the development of their own community is inferior to the establishment of the smelter, that it would provide greater long-term sustainable development for them. And it must be demonstrated to them why Sunday's smoke of a start ought not to intensify into a greater fire of protest and opposition as is their present intention.

Photo by Elspeth Duncan

Wednesday, March 29, 2006

No EMA clearance to ALCOA yet

Trinidad Express
March 29, 2006

The Environmental Management Authority (EMA) has not granted a Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC) to Alcoa Inc, pending a request for further information.

Declaring Alcoa's submission as "incomplete", the EMA asked yesterday for further information "before any accurate determination and evaluation can be made".

On March 14 Alcoa submitted a CEC application for the establishment of a 341,000 tonnes per year aluminium smelter along with anode production facilities and an intermediate/downstream fabricating facility.

This is the second application for an aluminium smelter in the Cap-de-Ville/Chatham area after the National Energy Corporation withdrew the first one on March 8.

The EMA has requested additional information as basic as a map illustrating the specific location of the smelter as well as a scaled site plan which would outline site boundaries, and its position relative to neighbouring development and infrastructure. Additional geotechnical and geological information supporting the site's suitability also needs to be furnished.

Coming into effect in July 2001, the CEC process examined the environmental acceptability of a proposed activity, provided that all the conditions contained in the application are fulfilled.

Tuesday, March 28, 2006

Smelter will bring grief to Trinis

Letter to the Editor
Trinidad Express
March 28, 2006

I have been trying to follow the controversy concerning the projected Alcoa smelter in south Trinidad.

Although it is many years since I worked in Trinidad, my wife and I are regular visitors.

This new situation reminds me of the ways in which products banned in North America were dumped on the retail market in Trinidad. For instance: kettles soldered with lead, washing preparations containing chemicals dangerous to the nervous system and grossly inadequate auto tyres and batteries.

Now we could have a more dangerous type of dumping. Aluminium smelters in North America are being closed down for environmental and health reasons. The residues of the smelting process are dangerous fumes and pot liner waste. Pot liner waste is notoriously difficult to get rid of even in the US.

Consider energy. Rich countries are always eager to gain access to the natural resources of other countries. T&T's energy resources are already being depleted to satisfy the greedy unsupportable lifestyles of Americans.

Aluminium smelting will require vast amounts of natural gas, acquired at cheap rates, to smelt the ore. But won't Trinidadians ever need this finite resource for themselves?

No. This is not sustainable development. It will defile a beautiful part of the island-but this does not seem to matter to the businesses and companies hoping to benefit.

Really, are you willing to sell your birthright for a mess of pot liner waste?

 John Jepson


Monday, March 27, 2006

Hundreds march to stop smelter construction

More than 1,000 people journeyed in the blistering heat through the Chatham region in Cedros yesterday, as they protested a decision to build a smelter in the south-western peninsula.
Social groups from across the country, led by the Chatham/Cap-de-ville Environmental Protection Group and Cedros Peninsula United, as well as some journalists and police officers, gathered from 9 am at Chatham Junction.
Many of the groups, including the Oilfield Workers Trade Union, Hindu Credit Union, Disabled People’s International, the Keith Noel 136 Committee and the Rights Action Group came from outside of the peninsula, to show solidarity with the southern residents.
The demonstrators warned that they would not allow construction of a smelter plant, stating that they were ready to defend their country with their lives.
Waving placards which read: “No to Pollution,” “No to Toxic Waste” and “Let us Live,” the demonstrators trekked down Chatham Main Road to the Bob Marley tune One Love.
One demonstrator—Anna Cadiz—who came from Maraval, said:
“We are not going to allow our country to be destroyed. We have a right to say we don’t want this pollution, and we are 100 per cent united against the construction of this smelter plant.”
Troy Hadeed, of Carenage, said: “What they are trying to do to our beloved country is utter nonsense. This is going to affect our water systems, our agriculture and forestry. We cannot allow this.”
Some of the demonstrators wore white T-shirts with the words “Save T&T” emblazoned on them.
Young children carrying placards about the effects of pollution also took centre stage as they danced to the rhythms of the Fullerton Tassa Group.
UNC Senator Sadiq Baksh and PNM Councillor Dhansam Dhansook also participated in the one-mile march, along with TV 6 Morning Edition host Andy Johnson and Guardian columnist Attillah Springer.
Baksh said he shared the residents’ concerns.
“I am here in solidarity with them and I believe that they have a right to voice their opinions.
“The Government should have consulted with the people, because their concerns about death, pollution and health risks are valid,” Baksh said.
President of Cedros Peninsula United Dr Raphael Sebastien said the march was the biggest success since the campaign against the smelter plans began 18 months ago.
After the march, the residents gathered at Food Crop Junction, Chatham, where they participated in a religious service. Representatives from the Cedros Anglican, Presbyterian, Open Bible and Pentecostal Churches gave praise, along with various leaders of the Muslim and Christian faiths.
Demonstrators were given samples of agricultural produce and delicacies produced by Cedros residents, who said the aluminium smelter plants would destroy their livelihood.

Chatham/Cap-de-Ville queries deserve answers

Trinidad Express
Saturday March 25, 06

Imagine the wider scene of that published in the Express of March 23 , a small, filled auditorium in the Fernandes Complex, as mixed a grouping of persons as anyone can imagine, citizens of Chatham, Union Village and the south-western peninsula, activists, professionals, trade unionists, university students, writers, teachers and concerned citizens.

Democracy on the move. And the event? A public meeting organised by a new group, the Rights Action Group, to sensitise the public to the issue of establishment of aluminium smelters and other energy-based industries in the southwestern peninsula. And picture the scene of the young woman facing the audience proudly singing the National Anthem, and halfway through, the appearance of another person who slowly wraps the singer with a roll of aluminium foil about her body and eventually her head, and at the end of the Anthem the singer explosively tearing herself out of the enveloping shrouds of aluminium foil.

The messages? We certainly do have an imaginative new generation carrying the torch for meaningful sustainable development, some highly creative young people, a group of young people who understand the direction in which we appear to be heading, and, are prepared to question it.

We are inclined to share their concerns, if only to be appraised of the facts surrounding the proposal. There is much that goes on in this country ostensibly on behalf of its citizens the origins and details of which are shrouded by the mists of Cabinet or other decisions, many of them beyond the ken of Parliament itself; the sale of BWIA to Acker, Inncogen and the desalination plant, and now aluminium smelters.

Hearing of the self-reliant lifestyles of the villagers of Union and Chatham and others on the southwestern peninsula, the numbers that will be involved, we think that the Government must openly communicate with all citizens on the safety of aluminium smelters for workers, the possible effects on the environment, and particularly the displacement of citizens and destruction of rural community life. But there are other questions that must be answered with a comprehensive written statement, followed by an open national consultation chaired by an experienced and independent commissioner.

In addition to the key questions regarding the health of workers and residents, and that of the wastes, others should include the question of what Alutrint and Alcoa will pay for either the gas, or the electricity. Aluminium smelting devours energy. And what infrastructure will the country provide Alutrint and Alcoa? A harbour and port? An electricity generating plant? And especially, what incentives have in fact been offered to the companies, particularly Alcoa? Participatory democracy demands this response.

Sunday, March 26, 2006

No Smelter, No way

Q&A with BC Pires
Sunday Express
March 26, 2006

Environmental engineer Cathal Healy-Singh is a spokesman for the Rights Action Group, which is completely against the establishment of any aluminum smelter in Trinidad & Tobago.

Q: Who is the Rights Action Group?

A: We are a non-profit NGO [comprising] Trindadians from a cross-section of occupations: university students; people from the media; professionals; an interior designer; two farmers.

What is your connection to the Cap-de-Ville, Union village and Cedros community groups?

We help build awareness in those communities of the National Environmental Policy and Act [which requires] the government to provide information at community level to support the community's input into the process of industrialisation and development in general. We're trying to fill the gap the government is not filling.

Is it fair to say your support comes from the middle-classes, the white people, the bourge?

Absolutely not! I wouldn't describe any of us as being, financially, middle-class. Largely, the support is in the communities, either below or on the poverty line. We don't see that as being relevant.

Some might label you as middle-class people opposed to the government's plans to develop the economy?

I think the middle-classes and business people are actually quite keen to see [the aluminum smelter] developments because they see opportunities. What you saw at CCA7 on Tuesday was our attempt to sensitise the Port of Spain crowd. We intend to go into the wider community and depending on where we are, you will see a very different cross-section of Trinidadians there. People say the environment is a middle-class thing but people in communities, particularly people living below the poverty line who depend on those resources, like fishing, have a lot of respect for it.

What opportunities do business people see?

In the Alcoa project in Chatham, I don't see any spin-offs because they are producing for export. In the Alutrint case, there's the downstream industry. They intend to produce aluminum for production of cables, wheels, components.

Is the Alutrint plant's ability to generate added value not a good thing?

The cost of smelting in terms of public health and local and global environment outweighs the benefit of downstream opportunity. We don't think it's wise to use a diminishing resource [gas] for industries that require large amounts of energy. The extraction of hydrocarbons is in its twilight now as global climate has broken down. Greenhouse gases are warming the globe and weather patterns are changing definitely. The ozone layer is being depleted. The aluminum smelting industry is a large contributor to [these]. There are other enormous economic opportunities where there are less ecological and public health costs.

But we can't have the benefits of industrialisation without paying a price, can we?

About 35 per cent of aluminum produced in the world is recycled. The cost of recycling aluminum requires five per cent of the energy of smelting. If we want to have our cake and eat it, we should invest in the recycling industry.

You do see less harm in Alutrint than Alcoa, though?

Well, Alcoa, 100 per cent owned by an American company, is going to export their aluminum whereas Alutrint is 60 per cent owned by NEC and 40 per cent by Sural, a Venezuelan private company. But do the costs justify any smelter at all? Is it the kind of industry we want to invest our gas in at low market prices? And are the costs of production vis-Ã -vis public health, environment and the final disposal cost of the hazardous waste greater or less than the benefits of downstream aluminum in Trinidad? The jury is out on that and that type of question needs to be answered within the impact and feasibility studies. So far, they are not.

And your position is, there should be no smelter at all in Trinidad?

Yes. the RAG, the village council in Union, the Chatham/Cap-de-Ville Environmental Protection Group, Cedros Peninsula United, Greenlight Network, these NGOs plus a host of faith-based organisations, particularly the Catholic faith, have actually taken a position opposed to this. The Council of Caricom Bishops produced an Episcopal letter [saying] the environment is important to Caribbean Catholics.

I believe, if people had the information about the consequences of the industry, they would oppose it.

What makes aluminum smelters so bad?

The nature of the industry. It is notoriously hazardous, by definition. The inputs are hazardous, the process is hazardous, the working environment is high-risk in terms of cancers-this is very well researched and documented, although Alcoa is investing a lot of money in seeking to convince us it's not Research links cancers to people who work in the pot-rooms, the anode production rooms where you have volatile organic polyaromatic hydrocarbons, a suite of different injurious chemicals. Even if you had a very sophisticated technology, it's inescapable that people are going to be exposed to much higher risks than they would be in another type of industry.

Surely people can choose whether they wish to work in such an environment?

That's right; but our position is, this is not necessary at all. The Cedros community groups have prepared an alternative development plan for the peninsula which hasn't been considered by the government at all.

There are smelter plants in the continental US?

That's correct. The one Alcoa proposes to build in Trinidad is equivalent to if not larger than any other smelting plant in the West. This is extraordinary, when you have a continent next door.

Why would Alcoa want to come here?

Cheap energy, weak environmental legislation, weak workers' rights. That's the attraction. And perhaps a pliable political class.

Why can't we support smelting?

The first reason is the most obvious one: the communities don't want it. They're emphatic about that. The public consultations held as part of the Certificate of Environmental Clearance process, certainly in the case of Union, [revealed] 95 per cent didn't want it. We don't have the regulatory capacity to do it or the infrastructure to contain the hazardous waste. In the US a hugely complex regulatory environment has evolved to cope with the smelting industry wastes.

That's taken more than 40 years. Our regulatory environment is wholly inadequate to cope with the level, quantity and severity of the waste.

The other reason is, we don't have the water resource capacity for industrialisation and to meet the needs of every individual in Trinidad. Industrialisation may have been an attractive model in the 60s and 70s but, in the developed world, these industries are being closed down. In Norway, they've created enormous problems, to fisheries on the coastline, to public health, to the cost of disposal of the hazardous waste.

How hazardous is this waste?

Hazardous wastes are unstable wastes toxic to life. Even the tiniest particle, one-billionth, is injurious to human health. There's cyanide in the spent pot-liners. In the US, cyanide bonds have to broken through a very high temperature process to make the waste inert before it can be transported anywhere.

Is there a Bhopal/Union Carbide type of risk?

I'm not sure anyone could say there is a risk of a large explosion and fire; but if there were spills or accidents and this material was somehow disbursed in the area, there would be an ecological meltdown.

You're putting aluminum oxide powder into a complex electrolytic solution with sodium fluoride. We have a little bit of fluoride in toothpaste so it sounds benign but the quantities and concentrations used in the industry. It reacts with the calcium in the bones and gives rise to brittle bones. You see that in uncontrolled smelting operations in India, where cattle in surrounding areas are know to collapse because they can't support their body weight.

Surely we'd have controls?

I can't say we will; Alcoa promises best available technology but we don't have a record in Trinidad of high efficiency, good performance pollution control technologies. You only have to take a step across to Pt Lisas to see what's happened to the Gulf of Paria, the Couva River and coastline to realise we have not begun to estimate what the implications and future cost of that estate are. Alcoa [proposes] a 345,000-tonne plant; Alutrint is 135,000 tonnes. We're talking about over half a million tones [annually]. If both were set up, it would mean the doubling of electricity consumption in Trinidad, only to smelt aluminum. We find that an extraordinarily narrow-sighted decision to make, given the finite nature of the resource.

Has any land been cleared in the peninsula?

In the Chatham area, no land has been cleared yet but there are rumours it is imminent. In the Union Estate, we know a thousand acres were clear-cut. It was started in the wee hours of the morning when everyone was asleep, without any notice given to the residents. It continued with a slaughter of the wildlife. There were some grotesque things that took place, in contravention to our policy and Act.

What steps can you take?

The Certificate of Environmental Clearance process offers a window of legal opportunity to challenge the proposed development through civil action suits. Our understanding is, the communities down there are prepared to take such action. It is not necessary to move extra-legally but it is important to send a message to the government that this type of industrialisation is not in the interest of Trinidad & Tobago and the people. If we are going to consider accepting the industry, there should be full public consultation so everybody is aware of the implications. If that were the case and the people of Trinidad still wanted it, it would have to go ahead. But because that did not and has not happened, the development should not happen because it contravenes the law.

Can the PM declare, as he has, that the smelter will be built?

He's either not aware of the legal procedures for awarding a Certificate of Environmental Clearance or he has no regard for them.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Wake up T&T!

This is a wake up call for all of us. That in the mad rush for development we remain mindful of our fragility.
This is a call from the Rights Action Group, which was formed in response to the threat against communities in the south-western peninsula of Trinidad by big business interests.
This blog is to keep people around the world updated on what's going on in the continued struggle to keep aluminum smelters out of Trinidad and Tobago.