Sep 10, 2022 Editorial
Kaieteur News – We laud the women in this country daring to participate in the struggle for a safe and healthy Guyanese environment. We commend the courage of a group of 54 Guyanese, mainly women environmentalists and social activists, who have aimed at this country’s Environmental Protection Agency and taken it to task for inexplicable and inexcusable failures at protecting Guyana’s environment and citizens. It was a scathing rebuke that would embarrass all but the most coldhearted bureaucrat, a reprimand that ought to result in some improved standards and actions following.
Our caption captured the sharpness of their tone: “Stop waiving EIAs for hazardous facilities’ -environmentalists tell EPA; want list of companies transporting hazardous waste” (KN September 1). Hazardous is an alarming word, which means that there are elements of danger, and they are not insignificant. This is made more frightening when the State agency, the EPA, that has the sensitive duty of ordering Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) almost routinely waives them, takes the position that they are not needed, when even a dummy could appreciate that nothing is further from truth and hard reality. EIAs that are credible, hence reliable, are definitely needed to study what materials are involved, and all those other associated components, such as location, storage, transportation, controls, and contingency measures, among other non-negotiable aspects that must be in place. And, at the end of such robust studies, whether the location is safe for such activities.
What bewilders and angers the 54 Guyanese making their voices heard is that a World Bank loan of US$1M has not been put to the fullest use by the EPA, so that it is equipped to go about its mandate with strength and skill. What the 54 concerned environmentalists and social activists have noted rather is the EPA’s consistent falling down on its duty to the Guyanese people. The list of failures of the EPA is long, and makes for reading that brings much shuddering. Failure to offer protection, failure to manage the environment, failure to assess impacts of development on the environment, and failure to formulate standards, headline a litany of dangerous deficiencies. No self-respecting national agency could continue like before, with such huge deficits painted all over its face, and so publicly and scorchingly. The EPA, therefore, must listen and it must act with urgency and honesty.
Among the actions that the group of 54 Guyanese is calling on the EPA to make a start with is halting these waivers of EIAs, and engaging in genuine broad-based consultations with Guyanese in communities slated for onshore facilities. Just as pointedly, the call is for publishing the names of all those companies operating certain types of plants without EIA studies done, and for their waste management and compliance plans to meet international best practice standards. The group of 54 raises the bar even higher in insisting that when the plans are not forthcoming or deficient, then stop or cease orders should follow, until compliance occurs, as reviewed and signed off by those qualified to conduct such kinds of inspections.
If the EPA is really about protecting Guyana and different communities in this country, then it would move with energy and determination to close existing gaps, and do right by Guyanese. The EPA cannot go on as before, with seeming casualness and what can only be interpreted as obvious weakness and some degree of negligence. We do not make any judgments as to whether such negligence is part of a broader political vision for Guyana to be open for business at any cost. What we do know and can conclude is that the EPA has not manifested the level of competence that is required to manage authoritatively Guyana’s new offshore and onshore environments.
There have been consistent failures at the management level, which could also be said is what characterizes other areas of expertise. All this leaves Guyanese exposed and subject to increasing dangers that could open the door to personal and natural devastations. Clearly, the EPA has its work cut out for it, and it must not retreat from the many demanding tasks at hand. Bending over backwards is no longer an option for Guyana’s EPA, and it can’t be business as usual.
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