Sunday, December 10, 2006

Government breaking the law- Prof Kenny

by Kayode James
Sunday Guardian
December 10, 2006

Professor Julian Kenny emerged as one of the more vocal protesters of the Government’s smelter plans during last week’s symposium, where he presented compelling points against the construction of the controversial facility. The presentation by the prominent environmentalist entitled Heavy Industrialisation in Trinidad - the expansion into the south-western peninsula and the problems of processes constitution, law, national policy, international obligations and carrying capacity is summarised below.

Political note

At its core, Kenny’s presentation argued that the very process used to establish the planned aluminium-based industrial estates in the south-western peninsula was flawed at best, and arguably illegal.

According to Kenny, Cabinet’s unilateral decision to establish the smelter runs contrary to several laws and policies, including the Town and Country Planning Act, the Environmental Management Act (2000), and the Constitution itself.

Cabinet, Kenny explained, neglected its constitutional obligation to account to Parliament, particularly due to its failure to ensure that members of the National Energy Corporation and the National Gas Company answered questions posed to them by a Joint Select Committee chaired by Senator Mary King.

Kenny wrote, “Cabinet has refused to acknowledge receipt of an alternative regional developmental plan conceived by citizens, NGOs and CBOs based on sustainable use of the renewable natural resources of the south-western peninsula.” The move conflicts with the National Environmental Policy (2006), which states that community groups and NGOs “should be given an opportunity to share in managing their local resources and the right to participate in decisions.”

Kenny also pointed out the smelter plans conflict with several international treaties, including the United Nations Convention of Biological Diversity and the Convention on Wetlands of International Importance Especially as Waterfowl Habitat.

Legal and technical loopholes characterised each of the five treaties identified, however, as was apparent with the Kyoto Protocol to the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (1999), which seeks to reduce the level of greenhouse gas emissions. T&T was an early signatory of the convention, but has not yet determined a limit for its industrial emission of the harmful gases.

Geographical implications

Kenny briefly outlined a wide cross-section of the flora and fauna of the peninsula’s ecosystem, and described the Carlisle and Quarahoon Rivers as the country’s only stable examples of tropical intermittent streams. Among the unique species of plants and wildlife he listed were the Oncidium Lanceanum orchid, the Cedros Balisier, the silver hatchet fish, and a local species of capybara.

“The peninsula would meet all the requirements for declaration as an Environmentally Sensitive Area under the Environmental Management Act and fulfil requirements of obligations under the United Nations Convention on Biological Diversity” he wrote.

Kenny dismissed the current scope of the Environmental Impact Assessment, saying that a proper scientific survey of the area would require more time and expertise.

Such scientific investigation, he explained, would also be necessary to further satisfy the requirements of the Town and Country Planning Act as well as the lapsed Planning and Development Bill of 2001.

Kenny added to the discourse surrounding the state of local agriculture by condemning the industrialisation of the south-west peninsula as a “further alienation of agricultural land that would seriously compromise the country’s agricultural future.”

“Many human settlements in the area will be seriously affected by displacement and lifestyle changes from rural self-sufficiency to factory wage dependency.”

Small-scale operations

Kenny acknowledged the significant advances made in the pollution reduction technology used by the aluminium industry, but questioned Alcoa’s stated intent to export spent pot liners.

“It would be unreasonable for the Environmental Management Authority to grant a Certificate of Environmental Clearance on the grounds of future export of spent pot liners in the absence of the required legislation and without formal agreements with the countries that may be affected,” he argued.

Like several other presenters, Kenny urged the panel to consider the feasibility of establishing a downstream aluminium manufacturing industry in T&T instead of a primary smelting facility.

“The Union Industrial Estate that has now been cleared of vegetation and graded might be considered the prime site for such industries, a savings in scarce land and energy,” he said.

He suggested a regional aluminium industry more in line with the vision of the late Dr Eric Williams, consisting of smelting facilities in Guyana and downstream industries in T&T and Jamaica. Guyana, he argued, would be better suited to handle a smelter facility because of its large size, whereas smelters in T&T would not augur well for a country with one of the highest population densities in the world.


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