Feb 23, 2021 Editorial
Kaieteur News – We are going to say this right from the start: that GY$609M allocation for Guyana’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is far from adequate. It falls short, very short of what the local EPA would need to do its work, fulfill a considerable portion of what it needs to do, what it must do, at a barest minimum.
We are as one with Dr. Vincent Adams, former head of the EPA, whose position is that the GY$30M allocation for capital expenditure is inadequate. Now, though we have the utmost respect for Dr. Adams’ credentials, experience, and visions, we must part company with him in his thinking that the amount allocated (GY$609M) suffices. This is what Dr. Adams said, “This $609 million appears to be a reasonable amount, considering that we are still in a COVID-19 environment which will no doubt hamper the EPA work activities…” (KN February 19).
Again, we emphasize and express our high regard for Dr. Adams’s expertise and grasp of the situation, but again we must register our disagreement with him. Indeed, Guyana is struggling to operate with some semblance of strength and continuity within the severe limitations of pandemic circumstances that do not appear to be going anywhere quickly or to a degree that inspires confidence. But $609M will not get the job done, given the stark realities brought about by Exxon’s negligence and seeming indifference to its oil production responsibilities, and with sharp and pointed references to the ongoing record with gas flaring, which is only a start. That is the first big minus sign and worth many tens of millions more in allocated funds.
The second minus, and it has to be (or should have been) another huge consideration, is that Guyana’s EPA is still far from where it needs to be, in terms of significant readiness, and on many fronts. Guyana’s EPA does not have the kind of expert staffing it sorely needs, and the kind of money to attract those renowned figures that do not come cheap. Guyana’s EPA does not have the degree of training and facilities to conduct authoritative and persuasive evaluations and conclusions of oil companies’ breaches (and that of others). Guyana’s EPA does not have the extent of the sophisticated equipment that it needs to monitor Exxon in the manner that the company should be, and especially given its seeming indifference to potential costly dangers for this country. We would go so far as to attach that the kind of money needed and not forthcoming in this budget allocation for sustained education of our citizens, for public relations purposes, for lobbying and pressuring Exxon, and others, is just not present in GY$609M to do any of these things on a satisfying basis.
For these reasons, we say that 609 million is a far cry from what is needed to perform at a basic level; and what is required by Exxon’s (Exxon alone) willful irresponsibility with regards to Guyana demands much more. Dr. Adams himself did say that what was given last year was just over half, or 58 percent, of the initially planned budget, and that was for 2020. Exxon has not been made to slow down, which begs the question as to why there is not more, much more, money for the EPA.
Thus far, we have spoken mainly with a focus on oil. But starting with that, there are all those ‘feeder’ and downstream businesses that are cropping up slowly, but which will gather numbers in the months and years ahead. Those are sure to include facilities like storage bonds for hazardous materials and, as could be on the table in time, fertilizer plants and the like. It is why the local EPA had to have set a high money bar, so that it can deliver on its operational expectations, and the government had to prioritize and fund. We understand the handcuffs of the COVID-19 pandemic, but minimum standards could never be enough, given our possible exposures across the oil board.
We continue into another economic segment. The mining sector has had longstanding troubles with mercury. Money is needed to monitor that area, where there is a long history of free-for-all conduct as far as the environment is concerned, and with the resultant perils to poor communities and natural habitats. So, here is our last few words on this $609 million allocation, if GY$1.1B was originally asked for last year, then it can’t be less this year, when so much more is planned by those who exploit our natural resources, and have done so in less than comforting fashion. And this is whether COVID-19 is present or not.
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