Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Where are the voices of these communities?

Letter to the Editor
February 28, 2007

Do the leaders of the La Brea Village Council and other groups from Sobo and environs expect us citizens to be convinced of their support for the Alutrint Smelter Plant? They have advanced as their argument the decline of industrialisation after 40 years and the impact such as mass poverty, unemployment and underdevelopment in La Brea and environs. What have they been doing after all these years but drowning in their compromising silence? What advocacy for renewed development have they championed before the advent of Alutrint, and why is it that they have now awakened to the smell of smelter?
It is very pathetic that after 45 years of Independence as a nation, for citizens and groups to believe that we must rely solely on foreign entities to develop our communities and provide basic amenities and services. For billions of dollars in revenue have been generated from the asphalt at the Pitch Lake throughout the years, and this commodity is managed by a local company (Lake Asphalt Trinidad and Tobago). The asphalt alone at La Brea can sustain that community and environs for generations what with its many downstream products. What percentage of the labour force at LABDICO comes from La Brea? Where is the true voice of these communities? No amount of football sponsorships, free tee shirts, full page advertising, maxi taxi caravans and political coercion can intimidate the real residents who are in favour of sustainable development as a right. These residents are demanding that consultations be held urgently with various State agencies to establish a blueprint for the community’s structural development, beyond the limitations of a smelter. New communities are being established a la UDECOTT and HDC but where is La Brea/Sobo/Rousillac in the matrix?
David Law
Former Union Village resident

The uncertainty of our times

“The uncertainty of our times is no reason to be certain about hopelessness”
Vandana Shiva Indian physicist, ecologist, activist, editor, and author of many books.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Smelter issue concern of all

Letter to the Editor
Trinidad Guardian
February 20, 2007

THE aluminium smelter issue is a national one and concerns every citizen, just like politics concerns all of us, and not only the residents that live in the area or the surrounding areas of the proposed sites.

I am a resident of John John and whenever there is an election, the PNM will send several big maxi-taxis to take the residents to various parts of the country to support its meeting. I do not see anything wrong with that.

However, I view the smelter issue as a more personal thing and every citizen is now aware of the dangers that will eventually arise out of the building of smelters, so there should be no outcry when citizens leave all parts of Trinidad and drive to Chatham and Otaheite to support the resident protesters.

This is an issue that involves not only us but our unborn children and grandchildren.

It does not seem as if PM Manning really loves his country or else he would have taken into consideration the cries of the people. Take note, Mr PM, the Bible warns, “Do not remove the landmark which thy fathers have set.”

Marlene George
John John

Monday, February 19, 2007

More Smelter Controversy

by William Lucie-Smith
Trinidad Express
February 19, 2007

I have not commented on the many smelter controversies because I really don't know enough about the subject. And that's at the heart of my problem. After all this controversy and debate shouldn't we all know enough to form an informed opinion?

In my simplistic mind there are only two key issues to discuss and determine. The first is the environment and health issue. Will smelters cause a significant environmental and health risk in a small island like Trinidad, such that we should not include this industry in our industrialisation plans? Subsidiary to that issue is the decision about location once it is determined that the industry is safe.

The second key issue is economic. Does the industry provide Trinidad and Tobago sufficiently attractive returns that it should be part of our industrialisation programme and utilise our scarce and wasting energy reserves?

Surprisingly, despite all the debate, I don't have a clear idea about either issue. In the first place it seemed premature to me that before there was any real consultation the Government had already announced there would be two and possibly three smelter plants. This suggests that the Government had already evaluated both the above key issues and decided in the affirmative. It further had decided on the appropriate locations in La Brea and Chatham. However, having made these determinations there appeared to be a complete lack of consultation or even public justification for the decisions.

In the first place the appropriate agency to determine the environment and health issues would appear to be the Environmental Management Authority. But just as work started at Tarouba before the EMA gave consent, so a Government determination appears to have been made in the environmental issues even before applications have been made to the EMA.

Now I understand smelter plants have been built all around the world by Alcoa and they say that these have been well accepted in the communities. This includes Australia which is a very environmentally conscious country and not a Third World victim (but will we insist on the same standards?). Equally there are horror stories about environmental damage and health risks.

Both sides of the debate are now so committed and emotional that we really can trust neither to give us an impartial opinion. We certainly can't trust the Government, who have become so committed to smelters that they have linked opposition to the project to drug lords. That red herring is quite irrelevant to the smelter debate.

So what I need is an impartial assessment of the smelter industry telling me conclusively whether it should be allowed in Trinidad at all. Shouldn't the EMA do this for us? And while at it, could they also publish the framework in which smelting could be allowed if their answer is that it is not a banned industry (e.g. buffer zones). It would also be useful to have similar guidelines for cell phone towers. Should I panic if I see one within 200 yards of my house or are they harmless? I don't know and need guidance from an independent authority.

I hope future governments learn from this debacle. They should not commit to projects before the appropriate agencies have approved plans through due process. The Government may query the motives of the opponents but it is equally fair for opponents to query the motives of the Government. Why is the Government championing the cause of a foreign investor to such an extent that it appears that it is their project? Indeed if the EMA turned down the plans would the Government find itself in breach of obligations to Alcoa because of premature promises? Is the EMA now subject to undue pressure?

The second issue of economic benefit is essentially very straightforward. What's in it for us? With an overheated job market and construction at full capacity the creating jobs arguments don't wash.

All our gas production is fully utilised or can be sold elsewhere, so this project must compete with others and show a better return. As public resources are involved it is essential that we are convinced that the resources utilised (energy and land) are the optimal available usage. This requires an economic rationale that has yet to be published.

What we have had is a simple assertion that it's a good deal for us. It would be nice, too, if we could get some independent comfort that all the terms of these projects are in our best interests. I wonder how many others out there, like me, just don't know.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Is PM tied to Alcoa contract?

Is Manning for real or is he living on cloud nine? Does he think that the people of T&T are a bunch of fools?

His frequent changes where the smelters are concerned, jumping from one place to another, surely points to a man who cannot make up his mind, but is possibly tied to a foreign contract, with Alcoa, of which we know nothing.

Or is it possible that the Bombardier plane which was recently demonstrated to him is part of a massive deal to hoodwink and confuse the nation?

It bothers me tremendously to have a mere geologist leading us all into destruction and bankruptcy.

His idle boast of industrialisation rings hollow in the face of changing positions, the latest of which is the drug question behind the anti-smelter protests.

Dr CF Ramcharan

St Augustine

We can't believe that, Mr. Manning

If Manning truly believes that the Chatam smelter activists are motivated by drug-running, then he is either living in a dream world or is poorly advised.

If on the other hand he expects that we will believe his outrageous pronouncements, then he clearly thinks little of our intelligence as a people.

In either case we are truly labouring under a crisis in leadership of the highest order.

If he is free to explain the apparent reversal of his decision regarding the smelter, then we must be free to put forward a studied alternative view. Try this one:

The failure of Ibis Deep to prove up commercial hydrocarbons and the poor showing in the ultra deep bid round, which only attracted one bidder, created a delay in the rate at which new commercial gas reserves could be brought on.

This required that gas-based projects including the smelter be similarly delayed. The Government’s delaying strategy was to relocate the smelter to an island that would take 12 years to build and settle, essentially giving the Government an additional 12 years to find more gas.

Then came the heavy lawyers and it is quite likely that this latest reversal in thinking has more to do with the Government’s precarious legal position with Alcoa than it does with the assertion that drug-running is what is driving the protest.

Nigel Darwent


Info needed on gas for smelters

Contrary to misinformation stated by the political leader of the PNM, Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) supports sustainable development. We must however have reasonable answers for reasonable questions and so we repeat for the leader the same questions the entire country asks, which to date remain deafeningly unanswered.

What exactly are the penalties that taxpayers will be forced to bear if we “give” the gas originally intended for ALNG to other new projects such as Alutrint and Alcoa, and are unable to supply gas to ALNG for the life of that project?

What are the exact netback, well head and all other named revenues and taxes from gas supplied to ALNG Trains I, II, III and IV? We know that the actual royalty revenues from Trains I to IV is only 1.25 per cent of the value of the gas, or US$50 million, compared to the US$4 billion projections of exports in gas for 2007. But what and how much exactly are the other taxes, if any?

How do these total gas revenues compare to similar underdeveloped countries with gas processing agreements similar to ours, such as East Timor and Malaysia?

What is the price which the people’s gas is to be sold to Alcoa and Alutrint and why is this price being hidden from parliamentary scrutiny?

How does the price of gas to be sold to aluminium compare with the existing price to other energy consumers such as the seven existing methanol facilities, the ten existing ammonia plants, Essar, Methanol Holdings, ethylene, polypropylene etc?

How does the average price of gas sold to the named sectors compare with the world market price which gas obtains currently?

Our country is a gas and oil-based economy, the wealth of which must be preserved/invested for future generations. After decades of corruption and boom wastefulness, the public has lost confidence in the integrity, accountability and transparency of governments.

The PNM would have a surge of support if only it would listen to the calls of the people for decency, sustainability, integrity, transparency, prudence, accountability and consultation.

Gary Aboud



Friday, February 09, 2007

Alutrint is the Tipping Point

For Immediate Release

The Anti-Smelter Alliance (ASA) has written to the Board of the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) requesting a meeting to explain why ALUTRINT’S application for a Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC) to smelt aluminium at Union Industrial Estate should be denied.

For the second time the ASA has written to the Chairman of the Board of the EMA requesting a meeting to explain why the “Precautionary Principle” provided for in the National Environmental Policy should be invoked to deny ALUTRINT’s application for permission to build an aluminium smelter at Union Industrial Estate (UIE).
The ASA comprises more than ten non-governmental organizations opposed to the introduction of aluminium smelters into T&T.
Environmental Engineer and ASA spokesperson Cathal Healy-Singh, said “there are four main reasons why no CEC should be awarded to ALUTRINT:
(i) a detailed integrated cost-benefit analysis was never carried out , which means that the social, economic and environmental impacts – both positive and negative - remain unquantified
(ii) the cumulative impacts of the cluster of heavy gas based industries proposed for Union Industrial Estate also remain unknown
(iii) unreliable toxic emissions predictions made by ALUTRINT are on the borderline of the EMA’s proposed air quality guidelines
(iv) the EMA lacks the appropriate regulatory instruments to contain the toxic operational impacts of an aluminium smelter.”

“There are too many people living too close to the ALUTRINT smelter to proceed. The toxic releases are no joke. There has never been any final resolution to what ALUTRINT will do with their spent pot liner – a very hazardous waste. First they suggested burying it on-site. Then they said they could mix it with cement and now they want to ship it to the USA. In my estimate, it would be unprecedented and frankly ridiculous to assume the USA would accept on-going toxic waste shipments from Trinidad,” Healy-Singh said.
The NGO’s that constitute the Anti-Smelter Alliance hold the position that it is irresponsible for ALUTRINT to be exploiting the economic dispossession of a large sector of the La Brea community as a means to advance their smelter, knowing fully well that the lion’s share of jobs is for the Chinese.
It is unconscionable for ALUTRINT to be compromising the integrity of the local Village Councils by financing full-page press advertisements saying the Councils “cannot afford to lose ALUTRINT”, knowing fully well that no cost-benefit analyses have been done, and knowing that ALUTRINT has never made public any data on the actual toxic emissions or health impacts on surrounding communities from similar Chinese smelters.
The ASA has prepared an outline of the cost-benefits, which they wish to share with the EMA at the proposed meeting. “Because of the widespread public opposition to smelters, we saw the withdrawal of the Chatham smelter and introduction of the O
Otaheite smelter as smokescreens to advance ALUTRINT through the side door. But if the EMA approves this smelter it will erode what few gains they have made in trying to emerge a platform for national sustainable development - we are at the tipping point of unsustainability” said Healy-Singh.

It's a Lie, says professor

by Louis B Homer
Trinidad Express
February 9, 2007

Prof Peter Vine, who has been involved in organising anti-aluminum smelter campaigns in Chatham yesterday described as "nonsense" charges that the campaigns were being encouraged by people involved in the drug trade.

He said, "It is a lie and the organisation needs to look carefully at what the Prime Minister said and if it is slanderous we should take him to court."

He said the expenses to carry out the campaign come from the pockets of the supporters.

"It costs $120 to rent a public microphone and to defray these expenses we ask each member to contribute $10," he said.

Vine said the tent and other fixtures were generally donated by people "who are in sympathy with our movement."

President of the Chatham/ Cap de Ville Environmental Protection Group, Fitzroy Beache, was not available for comment but Fitzroy Jeffries,public relations officer of the La Brea Arts Council, said he had received reports from some members of the community that they were being threatened by people who were opposed to the construction of aluminium plants in Trinidad.

Another proposed aluminum smelter is to be built by Alutrint in La Brea.

"Some have been threatened with physical violence, and in one case threats were made to burn a supporter's home in La Brea," Jeffries said.