Wednesday, May 31, 2006


Yesterday's tree planting in Union was a tremendous success. We at RAG have much to be thankful for. And we also want to thank the following people, without whom our cause would be for nought.

To the government of Trinidad and Tobago, in particular our esteemed Prime Minister Patrick Manning for pushing us into taking direct action. Thanks also to EMA Managing Director Dr. Dave McIntosh. Your ambivalence has only served as fuel for our anti-smelter fire. We continue to be inspired to take more direct action to counter your backwardness and lack of vision.
To the security officers from the Security Escort Services Ltd who turned out to stop us from planting our trees.
We hope we were able to give you more information than you were given by your superiors. Hopefully next time they will follow the law and send you with the correct documentation.
And the police officers who came on the scene to make sure we weren't doing anything illegal.
To the media who came out and trained their cameras on the security officers.
To the villagers who turned out. You are the best. Keep fighting, keep defying. You are on the frontline of the battle for our nation. Your strength continues to be an inspiration to all of us.
And of course to the clouds that burst just after we were finished planting. It was the best indication that our action was fruitful.

Villagers plant trees to protest smelter

by Richard Charan
Trinidad Express
May 31, 2006

People protesting the plan to build heavy industries on the La Brea Industrial Estate faced off security guards and bulldozers to plant fruit trees, hardwood, and vegetables around the 500-hectare site yesterday.

The group included people from the villages of Union, Vance, Sobo and Vessigny, and supporters from Port of Spain, Chaguanas and Chatham.

Government has plans to build an aluminium smelter plant on the land in La Brea; and Chatham Village, Cedros, is the proposed site for a smelter plant.

The La Brea estate was once heavily forested but has been graded into a flat and barren block of land.

Many of the residents living close to the estate have been relocated but there is a group of Union Village residents who are protesting their move.

Spokesperson for the group Elijah Gour said the community decided on the tree-planting protest "because the community prefers to have an agro-industry here. It will be more profitable than a smelter".

Gour said the protesters had prepared a plan, part of which was to plant trees in the 100-metre buffer zone surrounding the site.

"We have planted coconuts, cassava, immortelle, sugarcane and poui. We are saying that the agro-industry is something the country needs, and something the Government is not paying attention to. We want to make this viable. It will be an ongoing project."

Residents were initially blocked from entering the site by security guards.

However, Norris Deonarine, a member of the National Food Crop Farmers Association and Rights Action Group (RAG), said:

"We defied them. We were able to show them that they really cannot stop us from going on to the land. We planted over 200 trees today."

He said: "We have proposed an alternative. The agro-industry is bigger than any smelter plant. This country does not have a food security plan.

"We do not even have a policy for agriculture. Our food import bill is US$3.4 billion. Agriculture is a genuine business so we have decided to take direct action."

Monday, May 29, 2006

Keep your eye on the Ball

Sunday, May 28, 2006

EMA can't answer questions in Union

Flawed. Fundamentally flawed. That was how many of the speakers who gave comments described the public consultation that ran for close to five hours at the La Brea Community Centre on Saturday evening.
Representing the Envrionmental Management Authority was Managing Director Dr. Dave McIntosh, with supporting speakers from the senior technical staff of the EMA. Dr. McIntosh gave a rather perfunctory ten minute presentation, stating that the EMA had gone to China to do its own independent research. The audience was not privy to what conclusions they were able to come to. Seven images of two smelter plants were shown. No workers were seen in the images.
After another ten minutes collectively from the other two EMA 'specialists', one working from a schematic describing the steps in the EIA process and another describing the area from a geographically and demographically inaccurate map about the proposed site as if it was a fait accompli. Then the floor was open for comment.
The EMA did not admit to or apologise about the fact that the second public consultation which was held on November 13, 2005 did not begin to address the questions or concerns of the residents of the area. The specialists simply did not turn up. In other words this process was not seen to its conclusion and Saturday night's exercise did not begin to address those concerns because again the specialists were not made available. In fact Dr Mc Intosh kept insisting that they were there to find out additional information.
As one audience member asked, who was the consultation supposed to be for? Dr. Mc Intosh replied that it was intended to be an open consultation for all interested stake holders. However the wording of the rather small and well hidden newspaper advertisement specifically said for the 'residents of La Brea and environs'.
Audience members also complained that they were unable to download the considerably large EIA document within the time alloted for public comment.
Essentially the EMA failed in its duty to the people of the already affected communities and they need to be held accountable for this. Here are some of the issues to which no-one even bothered to make a response:
The EMA was silent on the issue of why they granted a Certificate of Environmental Clearance for the clearing of 1000 acres of land. Several residents came up documenting the health woes of their children as a result of living in the dust bowl created by the cleared land in the six month dry season.
The EMA did not respond to questions from residents about who would offset their medical bills for health problems arising from the clearing of the land.
The EMA was not forthcoming with information on what was to be done with the spent pot liners, given that, as a signatory to the Basel Convention, Trinidad would not be able to ship the waste to a secure location, as is promised in the Alutrint EIA.
The EMA was not forthcoming on where water was going to be sourced for the aluminium smelters.
The EMA did not provide answers to questions regarding the transparency of the EIA process, particularly why independent bodies were not contracted to conduct research about the impact of the proposed industry.
The EMA was silent on the matter of making a proper assessement of the value of the smelter to the community, given that it did not know at what price Alutrint would be sold the natural gas.
The Managing Director also claimed that audio or video recording of the event was not legally required and that he was confident that the three technical directors who were allegedly taking notes during the meeting were able to capture the essence of what took place.
The EMA was silent on what criteria they would use to determine whether or not a CEC would be granted and they also could not answer questions as to how much weight would be given to the opinions of the people gathered at the consultation.
The EMA had no comment on the question of how futile the EIA process was, given that on several occasions the esteemed Prime Minister of the Republic of Trinidad and Tobago has said that the smelter plants will be built regardless of protest, question or complaint.
The EMA did not want to say whether or not it had received enough information to make an informed decision.
They have until May 31st to do so. This essentially translates into one working day as May 30 is a holiday.
The decision that Dr Dave McIntosh will announce on May 31 will be the tipping point for any future decision making as far as envrionmental matters are concerned.
RAG members, university lecturers, students from within the community all gave a solid and airtight case against the building of the Alutrint smelter. With the exception of three unlearned and clear PNM plants, everyone who attended the meeting was vociferously anti-smelter.
And while hope springs eternal, we really have to wonder whether any consideration will be given to the belated and bewildering public consultation on Saturday evening for which they were so obviously unprepared.
Are we going to accept this? If they cannot answer simple questions, can we trust them to monitor these death industries that they want to introduce and make accountable to the people of Trinidad and Tobago these companies when they inevitably flout our weak and backward envrionmental laws?

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Public Consultation this Saturday

In the wake of public comments that were issued to the local Environmental Management Authority on the Alutrint EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment), the Union Village Council has received word last weekend that there will be another public consultation on the proposed Union Industrial Estate.
Ads confirming the public consultation were also spotted in discreet corners of the Express, Guardian and Newsday earlier this week.
RAG sees this as a positive victory for the communities of the south western peninsula. If only that the processes that are enshrined in our constitution and laws are respected and adhered to. This can only augur well for future negotiations and we call on all interested parties to take advantage of the opportunity to be a part of this process.
The communities of Union, Square Deal, Sobo Village and other villages whose livelihoods are being threatened by the proposed industrial estate, need your solidarity with them this Saturday evening 5pm at the La Brea Community Centre.
Please come out in your numbers! If you plan on going down from North or East Trinidad and you have room in your car, please let us know so that we can coordinate and car pool.

Monday, May 22, 2006

Australia aluminium smelter may become election issue

Monday May 22, 10:37 AM

The expansion of the Portland aluminium smelter in south-west Victoria
might become a political battlefield ahead of November's state

Environment Victoria says it is not against the Alcoa plant expanding,
so long as it does not cause an increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

The plant uses a large amount of Victoria's energy, which is mostly
generated from burning coal in Gippsland.

The group's Marcus Godinho says the Government's stance on the issue
will test its environmental credentials.

"It's difficult to see how this is going to pan out because at this
stage the Government is saying it's committed to not increasing the
amount of greenhouse pollution in the state, but we remain to see," he

"The Government made a terrible decision when it expanded the
Hazlewood power station, and it may make the same decision again with
Alcoa and dress it up with smoke and mirrors."

Sunday, May 21, 2006

How to make a desert (Part II)

by Anne Hilton
Sunday Newsday
May 21 2006

As if Yale Professor Speth’s lecture on Tuesday, May 16 in the Central Bank Auditorium on Global Warming and Sea Level Rise (and what you, yes, you could do about them — see a forthcoming Environment Watch Column) wasn’t disquieting enough, come World Environment Day (June 6) the EMA and various other environmental bodies will be focussing on deserts which are steadily advancing on all fronts all over the world.

We took a brief look at this problem last week. To recap, the world’s great deserts are natural ie not made by man. Wildernesses of ice, of rock, shale and sand have been part of the world ecosystems since the beginnings of recorded time. Note I write “recorded time” because drawings on rock in these arid lands in Australia and the Sahara are evidence that once those vast stretches of land were man’s happy hunting grounds.

Today those deserts reach out to engulf more land – and man does little or nothing to stop them. People living on the fringes, desperate for fuel for cooking and fodder for their cattle, sheep and goats, cut down trees, let animals destroy the tender young shoots of plants that might keep back the sand or, in rocky areas, where leaf-fall traps blowing soil and rots to form a thin layer of topsoil.

In other places cattle ranchers burn hectares upon hectares of forest to create grazing land for beef cattle, destined to become burgers in the developed world (think about that when next you order a burger in a fast food restaurant). Timber companies in Indonesia and elsewhere plunder tropical forests for wood to make fine furniture for markets in the developed world.

Let’s not (at least for the moment) get in to land poisoned by wastes from industry – or may this is the time to ask what Alutrint intends doing with the wastes from their proposed aluminium smelter? (If it is indeed only “proposed” and not inevitable since the Nation Energy Company (is it?) cleared hectares upon hectares of land for the project without so much as a “by your leave” to the EMA or an Environmental Impact Assessment.)

We hear Alcoa is promising to ship wastes from their proposed smelter to their US facility (or a facility in the US) that treats those wastes so that they are no longer a threat to the environment or create a mini-desert like the Red Mud Lake in Jamaica.

Since Alutrint looks more and more like a “done deal” I’d very much like to know what Alutrint will do with their hazardous wastes – wouldn’t you?

There are no deserts, mini-or otherwise, in Trinidad and Tobago — as yet... however, give it time — but not, I hope, in my time.

One of the few advantages of being a Senior Citizen is that I won’t be around to weep and say “I told you so!”

Those who seek to destroy this country are still hard at work. We know, or we should know by now, that setting bush fires which strip the hills, especially the Northern Range, of protective tree cover in the dry season leads to flooding as night follows day.

Perhaps part of the problem may be the average age of the population of Trinidad and Tobago. Most of us never saw the Southern slopes of the Northern Range covered with trees from Chaguaramas to Valencia as it was when I first came to live in Trinidad 41 years ago. At that time there were no floods of filthy muddy water rushing through houses, wrecking household appliances, furniture and bedding, and goods in stores in downtown Port-of-Spain.

In those days the rains soaked into the spongy soil below the sheltering trees and trickled down to underground aquifers to provide WASA with water in the dry season. That water may not have reached many a voter – but it was there for the taking, and wells and aquifers filled up from underground springs every wet season. Today floodwaters pour down roads through houses, stores and whatever stands in their way in their headlong rush to the Gulf of Paria. I watched, in sorrow, dry season after dry season as more and more bush went up in smoke. How many now remember the dry season of — I think it was 1985? — when smoke from bush fires burning all over Trinidad forced Piarco to shut down. If I’m not mistaken, it was in the ’85, or maybe ’86 wet season that Port-of-Spain began to experience serious flooding and insurance companies raised the costs of flood insurance . . .

Seeing the flames, smoke and the “morning after” evidence of bush fires in this short dry season and the march of developers up those same hillsides I rage at the senseless destruction of a once beautiful landscape. We may not make a desert of sand with bush fires and housing developments (planned or otherwise) but, again, given time, we’re well on the way to turning the tops, the summits of the Southern slopes of the Northern Range into a wilderness of rock, stone and shale, with but a thin covering of razor grass in the wet season.

Seeds drifting on the wind may put down a tentative root or two in the stony ground but even if one or two plants have found a patch of soil in which to flourish and begin the natural process of regeneration, come the next dry season and a boy (it’s almost never a girl) or malicious men with matches and those plants are reduced to ash, along with the razor grass that makes such a satisfactory blaze when set alight .. .

And not far behind them come shacks and /or exclusive gated communities. That is how to make a wilderness in TT.

Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Let Them Eat Aluminium

by Burton Sankeralli

“But they are poor people”… the argument goes. They ought to be thankful for a smelter, for “development”. And those who oppose are hypocrites.
Well for the record, I have met the people of the Southern peninsula and they are NOT poor. They are richly blessed with the wealth of the land, creative intelligence and deep community spirit. All they ask is for the basic respect and support that ought to be accorded all citizens of this land and they will work wonders
Instead this regime believes they deserve an aluminium smelter, this regime believes they deserve “industrialization”. This counts as progress. The eternal ideology of the house slaves who run our country.
If the powers that be invested a fraction of the resources in our communities that they do in these wasteful schemes that only get the big boys rich then perhaps this country really would be a paradise.
Instead we get smelters, instead nature is plundered, instead communities from Deep South to East Port of Spain face deportation in their own country, instead farmers are displaced and our food security despoiled, instead savannahs are ruined, instead we get monstrous wasteful white elephants… Or are they Tsunami shelters…hotels… highways … industrial estates… all in the name of “progress”, the house slaves’ desire to be the slavemaster. Well at least they are doing a good job of that.
For anyone’s information, this is not a poor country, we are quite capable of feeding ourselves without resort to this madness. But the regime is merely revealing its contempt for people…. “Let them eat aluminium…”

China says south coast water pollution "serious"

Wed May 17

BEIJING (Reuters) -
China has admitted that measures to tackle
"serious" water pollution in the southern booming province of
Guangdong are not working, state media reported on Wednesday.

Water quality in both coastal waters and inland estuaries remained
poor, the China Daily said, citing Chinese experts.

The drainage of land pollutants to the sea was a key reason for the
poor sea quality and poor ecological environment, the China Daily
quoted Zhong Jianqiang, an environmental researcher, as saying.

Citing a recent environmental report, Zhong added that related waters
inshore, including the mouth of the Pearl River, had been found to be
contaminated with cadmium, arsenic and copper.

Pollutants discharged to the sea via the Pearl River reached 2 million
tons in 2005, Zhong said.

With current measures to control pollution not working, new policies
to control discharges would be drafted, the China Daily quoted Guo
Xingmin, an official with the province's sea and fishing
administration, as saying.

Despite 66 fishing protection zones covering an area of 585,000
hectares, fishermen believe the pollution is contributing to dwindling
catches, forcing them to trawl in more remote waters, the China Daily

"We have to go much further away now to fish," the China Daily quoted
57-year-old fisherman, Peng Chengzhang, as saying.

"Pollution is to blame," he said.

Guangdong's poor environmental report card comes ahead of a planned
mass "swimathon" in provincial capital Guangzhou's stretch of the
Pearl River.

The 10,000-strong swim was planned "to celebrate the better quality of
the river," with Guangzhou mayor Zhang Guangning promising to sign up,
the China Daily reported in March.

No date has been fixed.

In recent years, provincial and local governments have poured billions
into cleaning up Guangdong's waters, but human development and highly
polluting industries continue to take their toll.

Last December, water supplies in several Guangdong cities were hit by
a toxic waste spill from a zinc smelter flowing along the North river.

The accident occurred within weeks of a chemical plant explosion in
China's northern province of Heilongjiang that poured highly toxic
benzene compounds into the Songhua River, endangering water supply for

Friday, May 12, 2006


Despite High Prices, Global Aluminum Industry Faces Rising Energy, Input, Capital Costs.

Publication date: 01-Mar-06

Although the price of aluminum has recently shot up to more than $1.11 per pound--a level not seen since 1989—because of rising demand and constrained supply, it may not be high enough. That price may not offset soaring energy and input costs and escalating capital spending levels associated with large-scale capital projects aimed at transitioning production to regions with lower-cost energy. As a result, debt levels may rise, and the credit quality of primary aluminum companies could remain under pressure over the next few years.

Aluminum's Favorable Pricing Outlook
The price of aluminum has nearly doubled since Jan. 1, 2003 (see Chart 1), as a result of strong demand from China, low London Metal Exchange (LME) inventories, potential production capacity closures in Europe and North America, and the expectation of slowing Chinese exports. Investment demand from hedge funds that have shown greater interest in commodities has also driven some of the recent improvement.

The pricing outlook remains favorable for the intermediate term, as the market is expected to remain in a deficit. Global demand is currently estimated at 30 million metric tons and is estimated to grow 5% annually, to 47 million metric tons, by 2015. Supply is expected to be constrained because of the forced closure of some capacity in the U.S. and Europe, an estimated 1 million metric tons of capacity is at risk of closure, and an insufficient amount of new smelting capacity slated to start production before 2007 to replace closed capacity. Improving prices are also consistent with the expectation that primary aluminum exports from China will decrease as a result of government pursuit of this goal to reduce "exports" of power. Also, improved economic conditions in Russia and China should ultimately result in increased internal consumption and lower exports. However, Standard & Poor's Ratings Services expects the price of aluminum to decline again in the intermediate term as new capacity ramps up or if major economies slow.

China Pushes Demand And Prices
China's industrial growth has been the primary reason for the surge in demand and prices of most metals over the past couple of years and aluminum is no exception. Despite a heavy reliance on spot markets for raw materials and unreliable power supply, Chinese primary aluminum production has sustained rapid growth, increasing to more than 8 million metric tons a year in 2005 from less than 2 million in 1995.
The main reason for China's continued growth is governmental support. However, the Chinese government has taken several steps to curtail the aluminum industry's growth and its exports, including restricting approval criteria for new projects. The policy requires that new projects be self-sufficient in power supply and also encourages industry consolidation to a few large companies with highly efficient operations that meet restrictive pollution criteria. The Chinese government has also implemented measures to lower exports of primary aluminum, such as replacing its 8% export rebate on aluminum with a 5% export tariff. It appears that the government's efforts to rein in exports are working. Exports slowed in the second half of 2005 following the policy changes and the yuan revaluation. We now expect China to export about 1.2 million metric tons of primary aluminum in 2005, down from 1.6 million metric tons in 2004. If China sustains this trend, it would be bullish for a world aluminum market that needs Chinese exports to compensate for regional deficits elsewhere (most notably in Asia, North America, and Europe).

Several other developments in China bode well for the price of aluminum. A number of aluminum smelters there are banding together to reduce production, in an effort to pressure their power and raw materials suppliers to lower or hold the line on skyrocketing prices. Also, Chinese government officials have been talking about raising export taxes on primary aluminum. This, too, would be good for prices, because it would reduce the outflow of aluminum from China to the West. One senior official from China's nonferrous metals industry association stated that China's primary aluminum consumption was expected to reach about 7 million metric tons in 2005, up 17% from 2004 and to continue growing to 8.3 million in 2006 and exceed 11 million by 2010.

Cost Pressures Persist
As Chart 2 illustrates, the 2005 margins of the industry's two largest participants—Alcan Inc. (BBB+/Stable/A-2) and Alcoa Inc. (A-/Negative/A-2)—have not benefited from higher LME aluminum prices because of cost pressures, while the margins of other companies have not widened as much as the increase in LME aluminum price would suggest. Margins should improve in 2006 because of recent spikes in the price of aluminum. Although key raw materials inputs like bauxite, alumina, and caustic soda are priced globally and cost swings are unavoidable irrespective of location, costs related to power, labor, gas, and environment are persistently high in the key primary production areas of North America, Western Europe, and China. Aluminum smelters are among the most energy-intensive industries, with electrical power typically the largest cost component in primary aluminum production. Alumina is typically the second-highest cost component. Their rankings depend on a company's geographic location and how it purchases its power/alumina requirements, i.e. whether it is done on the spot market or under long-term contracts and what the pricing terms are—whether it is indexed to LME or subject to fuel surcharges or a fixed price. Long-term supply agreements have insulated many aluminum producers in North America and Europe from rising power costs. However, many agreements expire in the intermediate term, which will likely force some producers to cease or cut some of their production in these areas given that power costs have risen to varying degrees in many areas because of rising demand and feedstock costs, namely for coal and natural gas.
In response to these pressures, producers are shifting production to regions with lower power costs such as hydroelectric capacity in the hope of procuring access to stable, long-term, low-cost power. Indeed, U.S. primary aluminum production has declined to about 2.5 million Mt, down about 31% since 2000. Domestic production is likely to continue its decline given the high cost of power, which will be the primary determinant of a smelter's viability.

The supply of alumina has been tight the last couple of years, driven by strong demand (especially from China) and moderating supply growth due to limited previous investment in new capacity, numerous production problems at refineries and delays in ramping up new capacity. China is currently a large net importer of alumina, importing 50% or 6.8 metric tons of its production needs in 2004, which translates into 70-80% of world spot alumina. As a result, alumina spot prices are now near US$600 per metric ton, compared to a US$150 per ton average in 2001-2003. China will continue to remain a net importer of alumina but the percentage of imports is expected to decrease as the country is expanding its alumina production capacity. With some additional capacity coming on-line, the price of alumina is expected to moderate in 2006 but stay well above this prior level since increasing requirements for growing aluminum production levels will keep supply tight.

Growing Supply Of Primary Aluminum
Globally, there are plans for large new smelters--some as large as 600,000 metric tons to be built in areas with low-cost power, including Iceland, Dubai, South Africa, and Russia. Today Iceland, which benefits from low cost geothermal and hydroelectric power, has just 270 kilotons of primary aluminum production at two plants, Alcan and Century's Nordural facility. By the end of the decade the primary aluminum production from Iceland is expected to grow to 787 kilotons. Alcoa is building a large 344,000-metric-ton greenfield aluminum plant, scheduled to start in 2007. Century is currently expanding its Nordural plant to 220,000 metric tons from 90,000 metric tons set to start production in early 2006. Market leaders Alcoa and Alcan are considering several other large expansions in other low cost regions, totaling in the $billions over the next few years.

Other Expected Capacity Expansions
Unrated Rusal Holding Ltd.--the third-largest aluminum producer globally with US$5.4 billion in revenues and 2.7 million metric tons of primary aluminum production--has aggressive plans to grow to the largest and most profitable aluminum producer by 2013 with approximately 5 million metric tons per year of primary production and about 8 million metric tons per year of alumina. Current smelter projects include construction of Khakas Aluminum Smelter with capacity of 350 kilotons per year, two greenfield smelters in Irkutsk and Krasnoyarsk regions of Russia and a new smelter in Tajikstan. In total, the company expects 2 million metric tons of additional capacity by 2010 in Russia. Rusal is also currently in the process of signing a memorandum of understanding with RAO Unified Energy Systems of Russia to construct a $4 billion aluminum smelter and power plant in Boguchanskaya.

Vedanta Resources PLC (BB/Negative/--), a U.K.-based company with primary operations in India, which expects to produce 140,000 metric tons of aluminum in 2005, plans to invest $3 billion to increase its output to 900,000 metric tons over the next three years. Vedanta's board recently approved a $2 billion Greenfield project in Orissa, India, that includes a 500,000-metric-ton aluminum smelter and thermal power plant, which is expected to start up in 2010.

Substantial Capital Spending, Negative Cash Flows Likely
The proposed shift in companies' production profiles will necessitate large capital expenditures over the next five years, with the capital cost of a number of individual projects totaling in the billions of dollars for some large-scale projects, some of which include the construction or sponsorship of power-generation capacity. As Chart 3 illustrates, however, the combination of increasing costs and substantial capital spending is resulting in sharp declines in free cash flow and could increase the industry's total debt over the next several years if the price of aluminum falls from current levels.

Overview of Aluminum Companies
Low-cost Alcan Inc.
Alcan Inc. benefits from a leading market position in primary aluminum and downstream businesses, low-cost operations, and excellent revenue and geographic diversity. Alcan is a low-cost primary aluminum producer, with about 70% of its smelting capacity in the bottom two quartiles of cash costs globally.
Alcan's relatively high proportion of internally generated power and almost 90% self-sufficiency in alumina help shield it from rising input costs, while its high degree of downstream integration stabilizes earnings through the aluminum price cycle. Nevertheless, the appreciation of the Canadian and Australian dollars and the euro in the past few years as well as increasing power costs in Western Europe continue to erode the company's margins. The company is planning several major projects to improve its cost position and combat margin pressure, which will weigh heavily on its free cash generation over the next few years. Counterbalancing Alcan's strong business profile is a financial profile that is weak for the rating and that we expect to persist as the company increases its capital expenditures to expand its upstream bauxite and alumina capacity. We expect Alcan's investment in its upstream operations to defend its industry-leading cost position in the next several years, thereby contributing to enhanced profitability by 2007.

Big and broad Alcoa
Pittsburgh, Pa.-based Alcoa Inc.'s credit quality reflects the company's very strong business position as the largest integrated aluminum producer in the world, with broad product, business, and geographic diversity, and efficient alumina operations. Alcoa's very strong business position is supported by its market dominance in the upstream aluminum market with good end-market and operating diversification. While Alcoa's alumina operations are very low-cost, the company is taking necessary steps to improve its cost position at its primary aluminum operations, which is somewhat higher than many of its peers. This is primarily because approximately 40% of its smelting capacity is in the U.S., where operating costs are substantially higher than in other locations. Also, lower production; rising energy, input, and health-care costs; currency fluctuations; weakness in some downstream markets; and aluminum price volatility have previously pressured Alcoa's margins.

Given inflationary pressures and growth prospects in the alumina markets, Alcoa is implementing necessary strategic initiatives at its upstream operations that should allow it to maintain its competitive business position over the longer term. However, significant increases in capital expenditures, cost pressures, and volatile prices over the next few years could impede a timely return of financial performance and metrics to levels indicative of the current rating and lead to a downgrade.

High-cost Century Aluminum
Century Aluminum Co. (BB-/Stable/--) has a relatively high-cost position versus its peers and limited product diversity. With a capacity of about 615,000 metric tons per year (metric tons per year) of aluminum, Monterey, Calif.-based Century is a distant third in the production of primary aluminum in North America, after market leaders Alcoa and Alcan. Century has exposure to escalating power costs at its domestic operations. As it stands, about 85% of the company's primary aluminum capacity is currently in the U.S. and is significantly exposed to rising energy and alumina input costs. The company has three smelters in the U.S. and one in Iceland.

To counter cost pressures, Century is more than doubling the capacity of its Nordural smelter in Iceland to 220,000 metric tons per year from 90,000, which should reduce its higher-cost U.S. output to about 65% of its total capacity. The company scheduled the beginning of production for February 2006, and the smelter should be at full capacity by late 2006. The company's power costs and most of its alumina costs in Iceland are well insulated from the spikes occurring elsewhere, with its power rates indexed to LME aluminum prices through 2019 and most of its production under an alumina tolling contract for which it receives a margin for smelting.

To date, higher average aluminum prices have helped to offset rising costs and debt levels associated with its Nordural expansion. Century's credit metrics will weaken somewhat in the next two quarters, as we expect it to need to borrow additional funds to complete the Nordural expansion, but it should improve once it completes expansion and the new capacity ramps up and enhances its free cash flow.

Thursday, May 11, 2006

Call to wear red in protest of high food prices

by Annalisa Paul
Trinidad Express
May 11, 2006

The Federation of Independent Trade Unions (FITUN) has called on members of the public to wear red tomorrow to demonstrate their disgust with rising food prices which the group says are threatening to place hundreds of families on the breadline.

Speaking with reporters at a press conference at the Queen's Park Savannah opposite Whitehall yesterday, FITUN president David Abdulah urged people to come out in support of the call.

"Wear red and give the mothers of the nation a Mother's Day present," Abdulah said, adding that "mothers everywhere are in pain when they visit the grocery and market as they struggle to balance the food budget...agonising over what they can and cannot afford".

Armed with two empty pots and placards calling for a reduction in food prices, Abdulah said the pots signified what many families were experiencing as they sometimes have little or no food due to the outrageous prices of food items.

Saying that yesterday's demonstration was "just another step further in the campaign against high food prices", Abdulah estimated that in the last two years, food prices had increased by almost 50 per cent.

Minimum wage earners, estimated to be about 30 (or more) per cent of the workforce, have been feeling the pinch for some time now, Abdulah said, adding that fixed income earners- including the elderly and pensioners-"were having their incomes eroded by higher food prices".

Faced with higher food prices, Abdulah said people may begin cutting back on certain food items which means that their children may be robbed of "an adequate and decent diet for the week or month ahead".

Recalling Prime Minister's Patrick Manning's promise of reduced prices on a wide range of food items in his 2005/2006 budget speech, Abdulah said more than six months have elapsed and nothing has been done.

Telling people that Government needed to get serious and stop importing billions of dollars worth of food items every year, Abdulah said unless there was stronger domestic agriculture which would be subsidised to the population, then there would always be a problem with the price of food.

Concrete Jungle

No sun will shine in my day today
The high yellow moon won't come out to play
Darkness has covered my life
And has changed my day into night
Where is the love to be found?
Someone tell me, cause life
sweet life
must be somewhere to be found
instead of
concrete jungle
Where the living is hardest

Monday, May 08, 2006

Persons, papers and records

Mary King
Trinidad Express
May 8, 2006

The Prime Minister's alleged response to the objections to the construction of aluminium smelters is that he will not back down in the face of the outcry against the smelters and further, he felt that the voices of objection were misinformed. I would like to differ from the PM and suggest that the country in general and the Parliament in particular may be uninformed.

It is unusual for the Executive to bring to Parliament any of their strategic management thinking, though some may say that the Budget debate is just that. Some of us Senators attempt to get the Government to debate its plans for the restructuring of the on-shore economy. Nothing has come to the Parliament and little to the general public which defines and justifies the creation of an aluminium industry with respect to its feasibility, the optimum use of our diminishing natural gas resources, its impact on the environment, the level of earnings from the sale of gas and a comparison with the longer term uses to which this gas can be put in the context of Peak Oil.

A few CPA conferences ago parliamentarians came to the conclusion that governments should not sign trade agreements etc., without reference to a priori to their parliaments. Clearly this includes a decision on how to use our patrimony.

Our Parliament has created the Joint Select Committees (JSCs) to inquire into and report to it in respect of Government Ministries, Municipal Corporations, Statutory Authorities, certain Service Commissions and enterprises/entities owned, established/funded or controlled by the Government. These committees are empowered to study and report on all matters relating to the mandate, management and operations of these Ministry and other Government bodies, which are assigned to it by the Senate. These include reviewing and reporting on the manner in which they exercise their power, their methods of functioning and any criteria so adopted by them.

The Ministry of Energy and the associated agencies are directly responsible for the strategic management of the proposed aluminium industry. Given the dearth of information presented to the Parliament by the Executive it fell to the relevant JSC to inquire into the criteria (economic, social and environmental) used by the Ministry in justifying this project, the studies and approvals that were required to satisfy certain statutes and also allow the objectors a chance to be officially heard and be informed by the stakeholders at the public meetings of the JSC.

Note that the JSC cannot coerce the Ministry et al into changing their plans; its task is simply to inquire into the methods used to come up with them. Finally, all parties would have a clearer view and, as the PM says, if there were any misinformed they would be properly informed, those that were uninformed would be in a better position to make intelligent comment.

The JSCs are a recent creation of Parliament and though their powers and privileges are described in the Constitution and the Standing Orders of both Houses of Parliament many people, and it would seem some parliamentarians, are unaware of the full extent of these. Listen to Derek Lee, MP, in his book The Power of Parliamentary Houses to Send for Persons, Papers and Records:

"One of Parliament's privileges, the power to send for persons, papers and records, is a cornerstone of the functions of every legislative assembly. In practice over the years, this House power has been delegated by the House to its Committees.''

Standing Order 71B(7) of our Senate gives this power to its JSCs.

The JSCs have been accused of being inquisitors that ask embarrassing questions of those called before them. But this is just what they should be, cast in the tradition of Justice Sir Edward Coke's seventeenth century description of the Parliament, the "Generall Inquisitors of the Realme''. A consequence of this general inquest of the nation is that the Parliament has the power to inquire into any matters that it considers necessary and as Prof Campbell states for the English Parliament in his thesis Parliamentary Privilege of Australia: "...the House of Lords and the House of Commons may investigate any matter whatsoever, however embarrassing the enquiry may be either to individuals or the government of the day.''

The Standing Orders that apply to our JSCs restrict their activity as to what they can inquire into but do not restrict them as to whom they can call. Listen to May: " obedience is as much due to the summons of the committee which has papers and records as to the order of the House, a person who fails to obey such a summons is guilty of contempt.''

-To be continued

Friday, May 05, 2006

OPEN letter to Prime Minister Patrick Manning:

Trinidad Guardian
May 5, 2006

Last Friday in Point Fortin you were at your bullying best. You demanded that the local chamber of commerce show support for the proposed aluminium smelter project(s) in neighbouring Cap-de-ville (and La Brea). The chamber, it appears, duly genuflected as if it were a cell of your ruling party.

Opponents of these projects, you repeated, lacked knowledge of the operation of a modern smelter. And if we are to go on one of your a previous pronouncement, they are only a small group of “right-wing environmentalists.” Whatever that may mean.

In a certain sense you are correct. Opponents of the project(s) do lack vital knowledge concerning these smelters. Knowledge that only you (and a few of your cronies) have and the rest of the country remain anxious to obtain. It is extremely important that this knowledge gap is filled since you have made it clear that the smelters will be constructed regardless of what opposition your Government encounters.

Seen differently, it appears that you have given Alcoa’s short-term interest precedence over the long-term interest of T&T and its citizens. And, from all indications, you seem prepared to use the full coercive power of the State to ensure that the transnational company has full and unfettered opportunity to:

Destroy an important watershed and aquifer; compromise the health of every man, woman and child living and working in and around the proposed plant, not to mention the flora and fauna; degrade agricultural land; pollute air, land and sea while accelerating the depletion of our natural gas reserves.

Your critics view this as senseless. But since you have knowledge that they don’t, your explanation of what makes this project sustainable and in the interest of present and future generations will go a long way in filling the existing knowledge gap. Knowledge, as you well know, is power. It therefore cannot be that you are refusing to empower your people by denying knowledge. Or can it?

We would like to know, for example, what are the terms and conditions of the MOU and MOA signed with Alcoa? What is our current level of proven natural gas reserves and how long is it projected to last at current rates of consumption? What impact will the smelter project(s) have on the country’s proven reserves? What firm or government agency did the feasibility study for the smelter project(s)?

Why have you refused to consider the alternative development plan put forward by critics of the smelter project(s)? Why are you intent on bringing one of the dirtiest and environmentally damaging industries to our shores? Are there geopolitical considerations that are forcing you to place Alcoa’s interests above that of your citizens?

These are only some of the questions that you must answer now. Rest assured that more questions are forthcoming and that opponents of these project(s) will not be bullied into submission.

If Alcoa believes that its smelter-in-a-park is such a great idea that poses no threat to human health and the environment, then it should seriously consider Yellowstone or Central Park.

Over to you, Mr Prime Minister. Bring knowledge to the people!

Lincoln Myers

Gran Couva