THE IMPASSE between fisherfolk and the company that is seeking to transform the Barbados Bay Jetty in Tobago into a loading pier for quarry exports highlights the need for authorities to take another look at our environmental laws.
Studley Park Enterprise Ltd (SPEL) insists it needs no special approval from the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) to proceed with “renovation works” at the jetty. It cites a legal provision relating to structures that pre-dates the establishment of the EMA. According to the company, since it is simply rehabilitating a structure which existed before the EMA was established, the rules do not apply.
If this “grandfather clause” interpretation of the law is correct it raises troubling issues. While there is a need to avoid the oppressive retroactive application of the law, we must also look at the overall picture.
One of the objectives of the statutory scheme of regulation is to “encourage the integration of environmental concerns into private and public decisions.” If regulatory requirements do not apply to people simply because of how they define the nature of their construction activity, then we will be in serious trouble.
What is to stop a person from justifying potentially high-impact work on the basis that it is simply a “renovation” of an older structure? Further, assuming the activity in question can be hinged on a pre-existing structure, why should that fact alone trump all other factors? Should the potential to do harm to the environment or to pollute surrounding areas not still be relevant?
It needs to be clear that the EMA has jurisdiction over the regulation of projects unless it determines otherwise. We hold no brief for anybody or agency, but note SPEL did laudably invite relevant stakeholders to a consultation exercise last Tuesday. Residents, business owners, fisherfolk, and even members of the media were invited to participate in the exercise, and there is no suggestion that the company has been acting in anything but good faith.
However, the company’s reference to “a project that is covered by Activity 13 (a) of the Environmental Management Act” in its notice of invitation to this consultation likely engendered much confusion, especially given the belief of many stakeholders that a certificate of environmental clearance should be required regardless.
In any event, the EMA must clear the air on this matter. With questions over the powers of the authority still lingering from Carnival, the State should also take a look at how the law is working as a whole with a view to legislative review.