By Raffique Shah
Sunday, June 21st 2009
IN the face of a court ruling against the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) granting a Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC) to Alutrint, citizens must wonder why the Patrick Manning Government seems intent proceeding with this multi-billion-dollar project. Justice Mira Dean-Armorer declared that the EMA’s decision was “procedurally irregular, irrational and made without regard to consideration of the cumulative impact of the three related projects the power plant, the aluminium complex (and) the port facility.”
The EMA, supposedly a guardian of the health and safety of the people, has a pathetic history of doing just the opposite. Its failure to stop the wildness that passes for quarrying operations in this country is the most visible evidence of its impotence.
The EMA’s not-so-visible complicity in putting the lives of tens of thousands of people in danger is manifold. It does nothing about toxic emissions from a range of industrial plants spread throughout the country. Pungent and deadly effluent from small manufacturers and large enterprises are of concern to everyone but the EMA.
Recently, thousands of dead fish washed up at a beach in South Trinidad. Everyone was concerned (most people eat seafood) except the EMA.
Out of sheer shame, those charged with the responsibility of running the Authority should shut down its operations (if such exist) and allow the Government, heavy industries and sundry polluters to have their way. It seems now that only in the courts can the people of this country get justice. That process, however, as members of the judiciary can attest to, is a lengthy and costly one-which is why so many among the high and mighty get away with murder, quite literally.
And these are the same bastards who would point fingers at the trigger-happy youths who are on a nationwide killing spree, asking why the law can’t stop the carnage. Talk about double standards.
But back to the Manning Government and its obsession with mega-projects. The PM, on the day he cut the ribbon to signal start of work on the biggest power plant in the country, said those who protested outside were “the regulars” who oppose industrialisation, and that they were not from the La Brea district. He no doubt fingered Peter Vine and Wayne Kublalsingh, who, to their credit, have had the courage to back up their pronouncements with action, and who have paid the price most activists do.
Mr Manning must know that Peter and Wayne have never opposed industrialisation per se. They have never called for the dismantling of all plants at Point Lisas-only that they adhere to good environmental practices (which several ignore). The duo has not asked for the Petrotrin refinery to be declared obsolete and made to shut down operations. If anything, those of us who oppose the massive new plants government proposes to allow in this second wave of industrialisation, give credit to Dr Eric Williams and Prof Ken Julien for the vision they both had in going downstream utilising our natural gas, adding value through commodities like fertilisers, methanol, LNG and more.
But there must be a point at which a country our size has to stop pursuing greater industrialisation, and look instead to the information age, the era of high-technology. An aluminium smelter is the last thing this Government should pursue. Such plants, while they are necessary for global advancement, are best suited to countries with large land spaces where they can be located far from communities where people live. We accept that aluminium is used in so many end-products, from motor vehicles to aircraft, it will continue to be a metal in demand. But smelters in the front yards of communities that hardly have breathing space are a sinful imposition endangering innocent lives.
I shall not go the route of spelling out the chemical dangers of such plants. But I shall show how, rather than bringing us more revenue, such plants will be a drain on the economy. A study of the Mozel smelter in Mozambique (a huge country in which less than 10 per cent of people have access to electricity) showed that the plant uses around 15MWh of electricity to produce one tonne of aluminium. Alutrint, if it is built, will produce close to 700 tonnes of aluminium a day. I allow readers to work out the electricity consumption of that plant. That way they would understand why the biggest power plant in the country is slated to be built on the Union Estate.
Worse, as The Economist pointed out in an article last September on Iceland’s three smelters, “The boom (in smelters-there were none in 1995) is driven by one thing alone: cheap, clean power. Aluminium smelting is a very power-hungry business. Indeed, electricity accounts for such a high proportion of costs that it is worthwhile shipping the raw materials to a spot with cheap power and shipping the finished aluminium on again to consumers elsewhere.”
Of Alutrint’s 125,000 tonnes a year of aluminium products (its first phase), only 5,000 tonnes will remain here for downstream manufacturers-and even that is doubtful. And future prices of aluminium are not exactly enticing. So why are we pursuing this nightmare of a project? Are we that stupid? Are we “Ma backside children?”
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