EMA approval for smelter ‘illegal’

By Andre Bagoo
June 17, 2009 – newsday.co.tt

www.trinidadandtobagonews.com

Aluminum Smelter PlantHIGH COURT Judge Justice Mira Dean-Armorer yesterday ruled the decision of the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) to grant approval for construction of the Alutrint smelter plant in La Brea was illegal and made in an “outrageous”, “irrational” and “procedurally irregular” manner.

Delivering judgment in a series of lawsuits challenging the EMA’s April 2007 granting of a certificate of environmental (CEC) to Alutrint, the judge found that the failure of the EMA to disclose to the public or consider a crucial report which analysed the cumulative impact of the smelter plant alongside a now under-construction power plant as well as a planned port facility had fatally tainted the process used in approving plans for the plant.

“It is my view and I hold that the decision of the defendant EMA is procedurally irregular, irrational and made without regard to a relevant consideration, that is to say, the consideration of the cumulative impact of the three related projects: the power plant, the aluminium complex, the port facility,” Dean-Armorer found.

“In my view there was no evidence transparent or otherwise to prove (a) hard look on the part of the EMA of the cumulative impact of the three parts of the project. For no apparent reason the March 28 report was shrouded in secrecy,” she said, adding that the report was not placed on the publically-available registers in relation to the project. Noting that this contrasted with the EMA’s conduct with regard to other documentation it had on the project, she said, “it seems that in respect of a factor as important as cumulative impact, which could have far reaching effects on human health and safety, the Authority could have on one last occasion exercised the meticulous care of which it had taken throughout the preceding two years.”

She also noted that key findings on what would be done with the waste material (called SPL) that would be generated by the smelter plant were missing from the EMA’s processes.

“It appears to me that having regard to the hazardous nature of the SPL and its potential to cause harm to human health it was outrageous of the decision-maker to leave such issues unresolved before the CEC was granted,” she said. She also found that a failure to hold a consultation meeting at the start of the development process as well as the narrow time-frame between the meetings that were held represented, “a flaw which diminished the quality of public consultation.”

Dean-Armorer’s judgment effectively halts work on the smelter project by rendering such work illegal. The judge was invited to stay her ruling to allow lawyers for Alutrint and the State to lodge an appeal in the Court of Appeal. She declined.

In dealing with several arguments, some of which she found to be unfounded, she voiced concerns over other aspects of the process that began in 2005 when the Government announced a smelter plant to the final granting of the CEC in 2007.“There could be no doubt that there was considerable scientific evidence before the court of threats of both serious and irreversible damage to both the environment and human health…The fact of conflicting scientific opinions as to the effect of the project in itself implies uncertainty…there is a strong likelihood that the actual concentrations would be found to be unmanageably deleterious to human health,” she noted.

From as early as 2 pm, La Brea residents, politicians, environmentalists and anti-smelter activists packed the courtroom in anticipation of her ruling, coming in the wake of Prime Minister Patrick Manning turning the sod at a power plant near the site of the project in La Brea last week.

After the judge orally read portions of her written ruling, environmentalist Wayne Kubalsingh, shouted out “Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!”. He triggered a round of applause from several persons in the public gallery of the courtroom.

http://www.newsday.co.tt/news/0,102188.html

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