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Letter: Ministry of energy's process for establishing mining zones is dictatorial, undemocratic, and secretive
Published on December 19, 2013 Email To Friend    Print Version

Dear Sir:

Quarry zones are “required” by the Minerals Act of 2000. The Ministry of Energy (MOE) engaged GWP Ltd, an English company, to conduct a strategic environmental impact assessment report (SEIA) to identify and recommend quarries (Mining Zones) across Trinidad and Tobago. Their work started in January 2013 and was due to be completed at the end of September 2013. Fishermen and Friends of the Sea (FFOS) were invited, along with other public interest citizens and stakeholders, to the first “public consultation” in December 2013, after the report had been completed.

This was not a public consultation -- it was dictatorial, undemocratic, and secretive:

1. There was no background information provided beforehand as to what was going to be the subject of the “public consultation” even though FFOS wrote requesting same.

2. There was no open comment period to allow attendees to voice their concerns.

3. The SEIA Report which formed the basis of the entire “public consultation” process was deemed to be too confidential to share with the attendees. Imagine you are being asked to participate in a “public consultation” process and you are not permitted to view the document that is underlying the entire consultation?

4. Many of the responses provided were vague.

5. Attendees were warned not to try to get the SEIA Report even under the Freedom of Information Act, (FOIA) as this was clothed with Cabinet secrecy. What can be so confidential in a report on quarrying zones in Trinidad and Tobago?

6. There were no maps clearly showing the proposed mining zones.

7. The failure to consult with the wider public to inform the SEIA.

The nation's water security is at stake. Should we not have had meaningful public consultations during the study period?

According to the MOE, the recommendations of the SEIA will “allow” the Environmental Management Authority to grant a “blanket” certificate of environmental clearance (CEC) to all existing and proposed quarry activities in each of the three dozen designated mining zones. This according to the MOE will “simplify the process” for the grant of quarry licences and provide an “emerging framework for better regulation of the industry”.

FFOS expresses its strongest dissatisfaction with how the MOE has gone about conducting the SEIA. If what has been proposed is indeed appropriate and above board, why were the consultations during the study not open to public participation? Now that the report has been finalised, why not share the report with the public? Why is the SEIA "shrouded in secrecy", as found in the Alutrint affair?

It should not be forgotten that the last significant study done on quarrying in the Northern Range was the EMA’s 2004 ‘State of the Environment Report’ (SER), prepared in collaboration with civic society organizations, private individuals, and employees of several government ministries and agencies.

The SER focused on the Northern Range (NR) because it is the source of 80% of our drinking water. The SER noted that environmental effects of uncontrolled quarrying were creating “major problems”, that NR watersheds were becoming more degraded and that there was "a declining trend in fresh water quality". Key among the SER’s recommendations was to give priority to rehabilitation and restoration and where possible, to abandon quarry sites to arrest erosion and run-off. In stark contrast to the SEIA, the EMA’s 2004 SER suggested that further quarrying in the Northern Range be “disallowed” and if necessary quarry aggregate was to be “imported”. The SER also noted that the situation in the Northern Range could be helped if there was “a champion of the issues at the political level.”

We doubt that the current minister of energy is the “champion” we were waiting for.
In the public interest, FFOS can find no good reason why the SEIA must be kept secret. The nation’s potable water, the dangers of siltation and flooding are not private secretive matters. In our respectful view a cost benefit analysis, comparing the cost of the importation of aggregate verses expanding quarries in the Northern Range should be carried out before the SEIA is finalized or implemented.

Based on the facts in hand, FFOS is opposed to any “blanket” CECs being issued. There is no substitute for a transparent consultative process where social, environmental and economic values are considered equally. The absence of transparency in conducting the SEIA is consistent with the Ministry of Energy’s support for unregulated seismic surveys, that is, without the conduct of EIA's. The SEIA process appears to be driven solely by big business interests and is headed for a confrontation with the silent majority who value potable fresh water over private short term profit.

Gary Aboud, Secretary

Terrence Beddoe, President
Reads: 20504

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