Jan 17, 2021 Editorial
Kaieteur News – A discomforting and dangerous practice is happening right before the eyes of Guyanese and only a handful are aware and pushing back. Other than those directly impacted and agitated, there is seemingly silence and indifference in the greater Guyanese population. It is concerning something that goes under the label ‘Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA),’ and how it is used or not used; when it is the latter, there is the potential for serious trouble.
An EIA, in a barebones description, is a study of the possible effects on a surrounding community, should certain facilities be placed in its vicinity, immediate or otherwise. In other words, what could be if the facility – plant, warehouse, industrial or chemical process, and so forth – is located in the neighbourhood. An analysis, using different assumptions and scenarios, weighs the potential negatives on residents and environment, inclusive of possible health exposures, economic impacts, and social costs, among other things. It may best be described as taking preemptive stock and counting the cost beforehand. It is so that there is general awareness of what could occur, if certain robust precautions are not in place. It is of what protects the residents, the quality of their present existence, and their future welfare. At the very least, an EIA is helpful to have in hand, reassuring in its honest conclusions, and comforting as to the absence of material risks.
Yet, here we are in one situation after another, involving different kinds of facilities, and the position of Guyana’s EPA is as steady as it is unruffled. Candidly, the EPA’s position is glaring in its apparent irresponsibility, if not casual (one size fits all) approach to what could be potentially hazardous to the wellbeing of ordinary Guyanese. It has been a chemical plant here, a waste materials site there, and a storage facility somewhere else, and the EPA’s sly, silent position is that an EIA is not necessary, it would seem on most occasions. Be it at Friendship or Agricola, or elsewhere. Regardless of the business to be engaged in, or the kind of facility to be erected, Guyana’s EPA’s position is that an EIA is not necessary. It as though the local EPA has a special rubberstamp that says: ‘EIA not needed’ and which is used unfailingly.
To emphasize our focus, this is not about huge department stores, or a steel storage bond, or something similar. What is involved has hazardous written all over the day-to-day activities. And because of the near consistent EPA position, it is our belief that the EPA can be justifiably branded as reckless to the point of criminal negligence. Also, it should not escape attention that the communities are always poorer, not highly professional or sophisticated in its composition of residents. Further, there is the sneaky approach of a media notice and a 30-day window for objections and appeals, which must be a poor joke.
Because what we observe is the EPA going on record that it did give the public notice and opportunity to articulate concerns; and in so doing it has fulfilled its mandate and responsibilities. It would appear that the EPA is hoping that those quiet notices would slide past without residents seeing them and acting upon them. How much better it would be if the EPA were to give early and clear notice that such and such is proposed and that there will be community gatherings to discuss what is happening, what it means, and with a meaningful question and answer segment afterwards. It would be of assistance and some solace to the community to have the company representatives present to field questions.
But none of this has happened, and another thing, too. The facilities cropping up with ongoing frequency are not being housed near sharply sophisticated neighborhoods, with prominent professionals and civil society citizens living there. We are certain that the EPA would not dare risk its now patented nonsense of ‘no EIA needed’ for anything in remote proximity (not very close) to those residential areas. Though we place much responsibility on the EPA for its pro-business bias, it is reasonable to follow the agency’s impotence higher up. It is highly likely that political leadership fingerprints are plastered all over this business of ‘no EIA needed.’ It is the understanding from those heights of: clear the way. Get it done. And whatever happens to citizens, that is the price of progress.
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