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Environmental NGOs Ask PM to Pause all Active EIAs

The environmental and conservation community wants GOB to put a pause on all active EIAs – and that goes as far as hosting public consultations. An alphabet soup of organisations including – Oceana, Turneffe Atoll Sustainability Association (TASA), WWF, the Audubon Society, Healthy Reefs, Mar Alliance – want GOB to stop EIA until the relevant regulations and laws are appropriately amended. This is what they said in a letter dated August 25 to Prime Minister John Briceno and was copied to DPM Cordel Hyde, Ministers Abner Andre Perez, Orlando Habet and Michel Chebat, who is responsible for Ports (Logistics) and the Cabinet Secretary Ambassador Stuart Leslie. The concerns the organisations have include the interpretation of current laws, which govern EIAs that have been previously rejected. VP of Oceana Janelle Chanona spoke on the matter. 

Janelle Chanona, President, Oceana Belize: “The main catalyst that drove yet another joint letter to emphasize what we’ve been asking for even beyond November 2020 when we wrote the last joint letter to the minister. But, it’s really about the fact, Marisol, that as a trend, and you all in the media will document this as well, we have been gong from project, to project, to projects, and it doesn’t serve any purpose but to create confusion and o repeat the situation of just not looking at things holistically sand that has been the mantra of he NGO community for a long time that if we have the systems in place and we have the regulations in place and the laws in place then yes. We create the environment conducive to investments that match our development plan and match our priorities and goals. And yet we’re hearing those words on one side but then on the other we see certain processes going ahead irrespective of those. But certainly I think, given the importance, financial and otherwise that the Blue Bond commitments which binds Government and all its agencies, you know looking at the Blue Bond agreements and then looking at what hasn’t happened in terms of the changes to the EIA regulations specifically. We certainly want to call out can we pause to make sure that: 1. Nothing is compromising the Blue Bond agreement. As far as we understand it would be very detrimental nationally for this to happen and we certainly want to play an active role in making sure that does not happen but also we have other commitments to UNESCO, to the World Heritage Site Status and we have other commitments nationally. We have several plans underway. We’ve outlined some of them in the letter. Again in the interest of supporting holistic national development efforts.” 

So essentially if a developer has the money they can repackage or resubmit those rejected EIAs in an amended form – the groups argue there are no guidelines which meaningfully respond to this issue. Chanona says they are also concerned that everyone allowed to prep an EIA can sue the government – by extension us taxpayers – if their proposal is rejected and can continue to submit those previously rejected now amended EIA forever and ever. Meanwhile, the groups reiterated their opposition to the Waterloo port project: they continue to maintain that the science does not support it, particularly as it relates to dredge spoils despite the resubmission of a revised EIA. 

Janelle Chanona, President, Oceana Belize: “To my understanding with the rejection of that project by NEAC in 2021, that ended that proposal and as you’ve been covering personally the new process started this year and that’s, you know, we’re talking about Waterloo today. But, that’s just one more case study of the fact that as far as we’ve read the agreement, the agreement is saying, not just updating  EIA regulations but fully realising them. I’m sure that has a legal definition but to my mind that means that they’re in play. They’re in practice. They’re being utilised and certainly we haven’t seen any updated regs as far as the EIA regulations and we haven’t, therefore; we can confirm, at least from our point of view, that no new changes have been fully realised at the ground level where this is happening and I think that’s the onus of all of this is that can we pause everything? Because again we don’t want to be even inadvertently jeopardising anything. I interpreted the comments to be that they’ve already confirmed that nothing they are doing is jeopardizing it. But based on the simple read of it, that’s where the overarching concern comes from the NGO community. We have been talking about the types of changes to the EIA regulations. We have multiple examples of what we’re looking at and even with this again particular case study but certainly there have been others. There are areas of the law that would help to even mitigate some of the confusion that we have. As an example, you know, with the tribunal that we understood was initiated last year, the law doesn’t say, well it says what step one is but from our reading it doesn’t say what should happen after that. So even in terms of that instigation, we don’t know what happened after that. All of a sudden in January then we see that a new EIA process around the same project has been initiated. So just to highlight that there are things there already that would be, I think, cross-cutting that if we knew we could change this then that would help. If we could define something, a big one has been the definition of meaningful consultation and how consultations are weighted into the decision making process because we’ve seen earlier that consultations are hosted but it just looks like a checkbox and then, you know, it moves along. Or we’ve seen where, as you called out, that because of lack of clarity, or explicitness in the law that projects can just keep coming back, keep coming back, keep coming back, even though they keep getting rejected. So I think that there are some, I hate to say quick fixes, but there are definitely some easily highlighted sections that can be focussed on that would take away a lot of the concerns that we have and really create that environment conducive to the informed decision making that we all need.”