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?

2 Comments:

Anonymous Dr Ahmad Khan said...

I would like to offer a few comments on this posting -

1)How do you know that the three persons from the La Brea area who spoke out in favour of development of their community were PNM plants? Certainly, every one has a right to express his or her viewpoint without fear of reprisal in one form or the other. By the same token do we say that the RAG posse is all a bunch of UNC supporters because they oppose the governments development policies?

2) The EMA cannot comment on the second consultation held on Nov 13th 2005 since they were not a part of it. That consultation was hosted by REAL, the EIA consultants appointed by Alutrint to present the findings of the EIA conducted. The necessary expertise was present at the meeting to answer any and all questions that may have been posed by the audience. Let's be honest, the fact of the matter is that RAG hijacked the meeting, just as they did with the EMA's meeting on May 27th, for their own personal agenda and in doing so created an environment in which accusation after accusation was being made on all manner of topics and hindered the objective of the consultation and that was to present the deliberations of the EIA thus far and to receive comments and feedback from the general public.

3) The claim that RAG members, university lecturers, students from within the community all gave a solid and airtight case against the building of the Alutrint smelter is erroneous. Apart from the fact that less than 10% of the community was present at the EMA's meeting, none of the claims made proved that the Alutrint Complex was inappropriate for the La Brea area.

4) Finally, I want to clearly distinguish between the ALCOA "smelter in the park" project and the Alutrint Aluminium Complex. The Alutrint project is not a smelter project, it is an aluminium products manufacturing complex. A smelter project, like ALCOA’s proposed plant for the Cap-de-Ville Industrial Estate, is dedicated solely to the conversion of either bauxite and/or processed bauxite (alumina) into aluminium bars which are sold as a commodity on the international metals market, just like gold, silver, platinum, copper etc., through for instance, the London Metals Exchange (LME). Alutrint is seeking permission from the EMA and other regulatory agencies involved in the local planning process to build and operate a plant that will produce 120,000 metric tonnes per annum of aluminium wire and cable for the export market. It is true that the first step in the manufacturing process needs a small smelter to convert high purity alumina to molten aluminium metal, but in absolute terms the project may be realized without the smelter component by importing aluminium ingots purchased through the LME.

8:52 PM  
Blogger Attillah said...

dr khan, for documentation purposes, is your name spelt with an a or an e?

10:18 AM  

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