The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) refers to the letters written by Mr Charles P Ceres which were published in the May 10, 2016, issue of the Stabroek News (‘The EPA is contravening the Environmental Protection Act…’) and Guyana Chronicle, and hereby issues responses as to the functions of the agency in executing its mandate under the Environmental Protection Act, No. 11, 1996, that have been called into question.
The EPA has the authority under the Environmental Protection Act, 1996, to compile and amend a list of approved persons to carry out environmental impact assessments as stipulated in clauses:
“4. (3) In the exercise of its functions the Agency shall:
“a. Compile and amend from time to time with the assistance of internationally recognised environmental groups a list of approved persons who have the qualifications and experience to carry out environmental impact assessments.”
“11. (4) Every environmental impact assessment shall be carried out by an independent and suitably qualified person approved by the Agency.”
EPA’s procedures for the registration of consultants have been long established. These stipulations under the act were operationalized in the early years of the agency, after deliberations by the relevant boards, and by management of the agency, well before the current staff were employed. Further, it is instructive to note that the writer of the letters was a member of the Environmental Assessment Board (EAB) when the operationalization of these stipulations was deliberated at the level of the boards.
Referring to Clause 4(3) a of the Act, the approved procedure of the agency in compiling a list of consultants is: (i) Consultants register with the Agency using the online consultants registration form and payment of an annual administrative fee of US$15; and, (ii) consultants submit information relevant to their qualifications and experience, along with the form in which the consultant makes a declaration to uphold professional and academic standards by affixing his/her signature to the form.
Further, the EPA requires that an EIA be done by a team of consultants; this is in the public domain and reflected on its website is (www.epaguyana.org): “The EIA is done by a team of independent consultants selected by the developer and approved by the EPA. Each consultant must have knowledge and experience relating to at least one relevant area of the project, and together, the team must be able to comprehensively assess the impacts of the project on all areas of the environment, including the human population”. It is important to note that the agency does not deny anyone from registering. Consultants register of their own free will and determination that they are qualified in their area of expertise and are competent to undertake the necessary environmental studies. The information in the registration forms is then compiled by the EPA and this list is shared with developers who may require the services of consultants.
The EPA’s records show that eleven consultants were registered in 2013, twenty in 2014, nineteen in 2015, and eleven in 2016. The list for 2016 comprises: Esan Cadogan; Coastal Dynamics Limited (CDL) (T&T); Natasha Sawh; NRM Solutions (T&T); Green Engineering (T&T); Environmental Management Consultants (EMC); Environmental Sciences Limited (ESL) (T&T); CSA Ocean Sciences Inc. (T&T); SYGMA Environmental (T&T); Eustace Alexander; and Godfrey Marshall. More details on these consultants can be obtained from the agency.
Another aspect of Clause 4(3) a, is that of amending the list from time to time. The agency follows the approved procedure of amending the list annually. However, in the event that a developer sources a consultant not on the list, then the agency requests that the registration of that consultant be undertaken, and the list is amended. It must be emphasized that consultants are required to register annually. The agency cannot assume that a registered consultant of a particular year would be available in the following year. In this regard, while Mr Ceres has registered previously, he has not registered since 2014, hence the agency could not put his name on the current list of consultants.
A third aspect of Clause 4(3) a, is that of the agency seeking the assistance of internationally recognised environmental groups in compiling and amending the list of consultants. This particular stipulation addresses the concern that the expertise in some areas may be lacking locally, and, as a recourse, the agency may approach international groups to provide assistance in identifying relevant experts. If the need arises, the agency would explore this option.
The agency is currently developing more robust screening criteria to align with international standards in identifying and approving qualified and experienced environmental consultants. Upon completion, these criteria will be submitted to the EAB for approval. It should be noted that Clause 11(4) is the determining stipulation with regard to conducting EIAs. For every EIA, the developer has to submit a list of consultants to be approved by the agency in order to undertake the studies and the preparation of the EIA. It should be noted that the current system does not specify separate criteria for firms and individuals. This issue would, however, be addressed when the screening criteria for the registration of environmental consultants are revised. EPA’s records indicate that the application fee of US$15 per year has been in place since registration began in 2001; this fee is also expected to be revised.
In closing, the EPA consistently adheres to the stipulations in the Environmental Protection Act, a practice it will endeavour to continue to follow. However, as issues are highlighted by stakeholders, the agency would endeavour to rectify them. In this regard, the agency would welcome any contributions the public may have regarding issues in the legislation of the agency.