The NEPA/NRCA Poppyshow
The National Environment and Planning Agency says I am telling lies about them.
On their website this week, their ‘Top Story’ declares rather grandly:
“NEPA clarifies issues arising from comments made in John Maxwell’s column of February 17 “
Unfortunately the ‘clarification’ doesn’t clarify anything. Instead it alleges I made a statement which I did not. It also obfuscates the real issues.
According to NEPA: “The writer reported in the column that no representative from NEPA was present at a public consultation held in Runaway Bay on Monday, February 11, 2008, to present the findings of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA). The statement is incorrect; in fact, representatives from both NEPA and the Ministry of Health and Environment were present. During the consultation questions were posed to which the Agency responded, leaving it hard to believe that in the final analysis, we were thought to be absent.”
What I wrote was quite different. “There was an apology for absence from NEPA/NRCA which was perhaps understandable .…”
At least one person present at the meeting has written NEPA to contradict their version. She wrote ”… the VERBATIM report of the meeting … should substantiate the FACT that apologies for absence of NRCA and NEPA were received at the beginning of the meeting …” She then pointed out that the NEPA rep arrived late.
It seems to me that the NEPA/NRCA has a duty to be officially in charge and present at any public presentation of an EIA. It is, after all their responsibility. They have a duty to guide and instruct. They can’t do this when they come late and sit at the back of the hall.
NEPA then tries to make me look foolish in the following words:
“With due regard to the writer’s vast experience, we are somewhat surprised by the suggestion that EIA’s determine whether projects are necessary. In fact, we wish to clarify that the necessity of developments is not a consideration, rather EIA studies are primarily intended to provide a comprehensive evaluation of the proposed development, in terms of predicted environmental impacts, needed mitigation strategies, socio-economic factors, potentially viable alternatives and all related legislations. (sic) The public consultation process facilitates the collection and inclusion of comments and concerns of citizens, which are then included in the final EIA. “
The problem is that with these words NEPA demonstrates its incompetence.
In ‘Guidelines for the presentation of an EIA’, (on the NEPA website) in a section entitled ‘Contextual framework’ it is clear that NEPA has the duty to decide whether projects are necessary or desirable. Under the heading ‘What is the EIA?’ the agency’s guidelines say inter alia that: “The term [EIA] describes a technique and a process by which information about the interaction between a proposed development project and the environment is collected, analysed, and interpreted to produce a report on potential impacts and to provide the basis for sound decision-making. The results of the study are taken into account by the Regulatory Authority in the determination of whether the proposed development should be allowed, and under what conditions.” (My italics)
If that does not imply a decision on whether a project is necessary it is clear that I don’t understand the English language.
If an authority can decide whether a project should be allowed, doesn’t that mean that it may decide whether the project is necessary?
It is my opinion that NEPA/NRCA as presently constituted under the Acts which govern them, constitute s serious threat to the Jamaican environment.
When I was Chairman of the old NRCA (which the new NRCA denies ever existed) environmental assessments were unknown to most people. Some of us, however were aware and in our 1977 Action Plan for Kingston Harbour we asked the government to make such assessments mandatory.
Thirty years later, EIAs have become mandatory in most jurisdictions. EIAs have several functions, the first being the protection of the environmental (including ecological) integrity of our planet. The environment includes not only the ecology — the natural systems, or biology — but also and crucially, the human environment. Anyone who has the slightest acquaintance with Agenda 21 should be aware that ‘development’ is Human development and that environmental integrity necessarily includes the welfare of the community as a whole.
NEPA and the Jamaican ‘developers’ prefer to behave as if the only people who need to know about a proposed new development are those in direct contact with it.
Mr Patterson’s government produced a “Strategic EIA” of several hundred pages for the Doomsday Highway and ‘discussed’ it at a so-called public meeting in an obscure restaurant in Spanish Town. This was in relation to a road which has the capacity not only to change the very landscape of Jamaica but to cause dangerous financial damage and serious dislocation to the lives of everyone living anywhere near the road — as I pointed out before work began on this monstrosity. As designed, the Doomsday Highway will devastate an area half the size of the parish of Hanover.
In the case of our Brave New Hotels, the developers and the NEPA/NRCA think it necessary to inform only those living in intimate proximity to the development.
So theme parks with imported camels — carriers of trypanosomes – don’t seem to need EIAs regardless of the danger to our local goat industry. Bauxite mining, similarly, gets a free pass.
Assaults on our very limited beaches are not considered to be the business of all Jamaicans, although three million or more of us including those living abroad, had access to less than 20 miles of public beach 30 years ago and have even less today.
If we divide the (1980) mileage of beaches by our local population the market represents 135,000 resident Jamaicans for every mile of beach. Yet there are people who want desperately to take away what little we have and to sequester it behind high walls, big dogs and men with guns.
The UDC’s destruction of Negril’s beaches by sewerage and illegal groynes is complemented by the destruction of Negril’s reefs by fertiliser from sugar plantations. The destruction of the one of world’s best studied and most famous reefs, between Ocho Rios and Rio Bueno is not judged by the developers or NEPA to be worth public notice. When I showed a Bahia Principe representative, Mr Bailey Hay, my photographs of a sea of human excrement beside his hotel at Pear Tree Bottom he said, airily, ‘Yes, we know about that.”
I was too stunned to say anything.
Environmentalists have been to court to try to compel the NRCA/NEPA to fulfil their responsibilities. It now seems we shall have to take the matter further.
The guidelines for EIAs and the NRCA/NEPA’s interpretation of them makes the process nothing more than an attractive nuisance.
There is no recognition that people must be at the centre of the development process. The paradigm is the Arhus (or Aarhus) Convention, adopted a decade ago by the countries of the European Union and which guides the developmental activities of European interests such as the Spanish hotel developers. Kofi Annan, former Secretary General of the United Nations said of the Convention “Although regional in scope, the significance of the Arhus Convention is global. It is by far the most impressive elaboration of Principle 10 of the Rio Declaration, which stresses the need for citizen's participation in environmental issues and for access to information on the environment held by public authorities."
"As such it is the most ambitious venture in the area of environmental democracy so far undertaken under the auspices of the United Nations."
Mr Annan’s view apparently had no impact on the thinking of his good friend P.J Patterson whose government facilitated the degeneration of the NRCA/NEPA into a toothless paper tiger. A Caribbean interpretation Principle 10 – the SPAW Protocol, is a dead letter as far as our governments are concerned.
A problem which will soon confront us is hidden in our new Economic Partnership Agreements with the European Union and, in the growing consumer movement toward environmental responsibility.
We are in serious danger of building expensive new developments which would be illegal in Europe and will increasingly be shunned by more environmentally aware tourists. Such people are having a severe effect on Spanish tourism and on the tourist industries of the overbuilt and polluted Mediterranean and Dalmatian coasts.
These unsustainable developments will quickly become a charge against both our environmental credibility and our economic stability. When I said that about the Doomsday Highway there were sniggers. ‘The man doesn’t know what he’s talking about.’
We shall see.
Copyright ©2008 John Maxwell