A decision by the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) to let a company run a concrete batching plant in Cunupia by a consent agreement, even though it had not granted a certificate of environmental clearance (CEC) and issued a notice of violation, has been deemed illegal by the Court of Appeal.
The plant was ordered closed in 2016 after a group – Concerned Residents of Cunupia – was successful in a lawsuit against a decision by former planning and sustainable development minister Dr Bhoendradatt Tewarie to allow the development and operation of the plant.
The residents, however, suffered an earlier defeat before the same judge, when they challenged the EMA’s decision to enter into the consent agreement with the owners of the plant that allowed its establishment.
On that occasion, Justice Mira Dean-Armorer dismissed the residents’ case.
While admitting their ruling was academic, since the plant had been shut down, Justices of Appeal Nolan Bereaux, Peter Rajkumar and Charmaine Pemberton held their ruling would provide guidance for the interpretation and application of the Environment Management Act by those involved in activities requiring regulation.
The residents appealed Dean-Armorer’s separate ruling that the EMA did not act illegally by seeking to resolve the issues with RPN Enterprises – the owner and operator of the plant – by way of a consent agreement.
Dean-Armorer said by doing so, the EMA reserved the power to control and monitor the developer while acting in its discretion as conferred by the act. She said the decision could not be described as unreasonable, nor could it be struck down.
The Court of Appeal disagreed. Senior Counsel Ramesh Lawrence Maharaj led the case for the residents.
In a written ruling, Pemberton said, “Threats to the environment as we know it spurred this country to establish governmental agencies to manage and control the use and misuse of agents which either improve the quality or curb the degradation of our environment.
“This case concerns alleged activities which have been deemed by the legislators as threats to the environment or those which ultimately lead to environmental degradation.
“In Trinidad and Tobago, the act is the legislative intent designed to promote a better understanding and appreciation of the environment and to enhance the legal regulatory and institutional framework, for environmental management.”
The plant began operations in October 2012.
Its owners were initially denied permission by the Town and Country Planning Division and the Chaguanas Borough Corporation and were also denied a CEC, but its construction continued. In May 2012, the EMA, even though it still had not issued a CEC, gave the go-ahead for the work to continue, and several months later entered into the consent agreement with the plant’s owners to effectively manage potential environmental impacts which could have arisen once the plant became operational.