Kaieteur News – While much attention is being paid, and justifiably so, to the Environmental and Social Impact Assessments (ESIAs) for Exxon Field Development Plans, the same degree of attention and urgency need to be paid to ensuring that Guyana’s environmental laws, its regulations and management are strengthened.
The Environmental Protection Act is a deficient piece of legislation. It needs upgraded to be able to regulate the environmental issues arising out of the oil and gas sector. What Guyana needs is a special set of laws, exclusive to the oil and gas sector since the Environmental Protection Act will never suffice for the effective management of the oil and gas sector.
In the latter half of 2020, a policy review was undertaken of the Environmental Protection Act. That review made a number of damaging assessments about Guyana’s readiness to regulate the environmental sector.
But even prior to this review, the World Bank had pointed out that Guyana lacked the regulatory framework and institutional capacity to maximize the benefits from its oil revenues. A Kaieteur report of September 25th 2019, reported the World Bank as indicating that while Guyana possesses a general framework for environmental and social management, gaps have been identified in several areas, particularly with respect to the oversight of the oil and gas sector.
A later policy review which was undertaken by Improved Access to Justice in the Caribbean has made a number of recommendations to update the Act and strengthen the country’s environmental regulations. It submitted 42 recommendations in 10 areas of regulatory concerns.
It called for the Environmental Protection Act (EPA) to be reviewed. It called for the legislation to be revised to provide a clear overarching statutory authority to the Environmental Protection Agency. It also called for the Agency’s functions to be streamlined.
The review said that environmental laws should prevail over other laws and instruments (no doubt where these conflict with the EPA). It recommended a more inclusive approach to the State of the Environment reports.
A series of other recommendations were made. These recommendations present a case for the updating of the Environmental Protection Act if Guyana was going to be ready to effectively regulate the oil and gas sector.
Revising the Environmental Protection Act is an old sore. A National Environmental Summary (NES) for Guyana was prepared in 2010 under the auspices of the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP). The report suggested that an opportunity exists for the EPA to be reviewed and be upgraded so as to make it mandatory for developers to consider climate risks and impacts as part of environmental impact assessments. It also pointed to the Environmental Protection Agency’s poor capacity to enforce even the laws relating to littering. The report further observed that while the EPA imposes penalties for polluters, it provides little incentives for avoiding pollution.
One standing criticism of the EPA is that when it comes to Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) of the oil and gas sector, it is necessary for there to be specific provisions relating to EIAs for the oil and gas sector.
Now why is all of this important? It has always been accepted even by our political leaders that Guyana was behind where it should have been at the time of first oil. Few will dare dispute that our legislative and regulatory framework needed to be upgraded, and the capacity of the Environmental Protection Agency needed to be boosted.
In this context, why should anyone feel that our country’s environmental laws and the capacity of the Agency do not need strengthening? One of the sub-components of the World Bank project which was signed in 2019 was to improve the framework, an admission Guyana’s environmental laws and regulations needed strengthening.
Given the rapid pace of development of the oil and gas sector, it was fatal mistake of the PPPC administration to dissolve the Department of Energy which had been established by the APNU+AFC. Whatever the criticisms of that Department, such an institution could have helped fast-track the various pieces of legislations and legislative amendments which are needed to improve the management of the oil and gas sector.
Such a department could have accelerated the passage of legislation as per the various recommendations emanating from the studies of Guyana’s oil and gas readiness. As things now stand, there is not even a Petroleum Commission in place.
The weakness of our environmental legislation and regulations can hardly bring comfort at a time when Guyana is rapidly approving EIAs and Field Development Plans. The government needs to pause and carefully consider the implications of the rashness and whether the country is not being exposed to greater environmental risks in so doing.
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