EPA outlines efforts to improve regulation
The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on Tuesday issued a statement outlining interventions it has put in place to protect the environment, and support Guyana’s development through a lens of sustainability.
The statement comes on the heels of increased public focus on the operations of the regulator, especially regarding its treatment of projects in the oil and gas industry.
Registering its appreciation for the public’s interest in its work, the EPA notes that it is strengthening its processes in adherence to relevant legislation, and is taking a more aggressive approach to project reviews.
See the full statement below:
EPA strengthening its processes and adherence to EPA Act
The EPA has been improving its internal decision-making to ensure it best serves its mandate of protecting the environment and managing the sustainable use of Guyana’s natural resources.
The Agency, and Guyana as a whole, has been seeing an influx of new projects that are unlike those dealt with in previous years. This is directly correlated to the rapid growth of the oil and gas sector. The EPA can therefore appreciate the increased scrutiny that its work has come under recently given that our motto is ‘The Environment is Everybody’s Business’. That scrutiny has become more stringent of late, and while the Agency recognises its deficiencies it should be appreciated that these are not situations that developed overnight.
It is against this backdrop that the EPA is reviewing its processes, and the appointment of a new Executive Director has seen the Agency take a more aggressive and proactive approach to best fulfill its mandate.
The measures adopted by the Agency include strengthened requirements for Project Summaries which must be submitted by the developers applying for environmental authorization. These summaries must include the likely impacts of and mitigation measures that would be used by the developer. Section 11 (10) of the Environmental Protection (EP) Act stipulates the Project Summary should include information relative to the site, design and size of the project, possible effects on the environment; duration of the project; and a non-technical explanation. The Agency has developed a comprehensive Project Summary Guideline for developers/applicants in ensuring firstly, that the requirement of the Act are met, and secondly to inform its decision and provide the public with pertinent information. Information required must include and is not limited to baseline assessment and evidence of stakeholder consultations/meetings on the proposed project and a decommissioning plan where applicable.
Each application for an Environmental Authorisation (whether oil and gas related or not) undergoes a meticulous process called screening. Screening is the first stage of the environmental assessment process. It is the stage where the decision is made to whether an Environmental Impact Assessment (“EIA”) is required or not. Section 11 (2) provides for this process in that it states that the Agency is competent to make one of two decisions when assessing an application. It may decide that the project will significantly affect the environment and therefore will require the conduct of an EIA (“EIA”) or that a project will not significantly affect the environment so that and EIA is not required. From this, it is clear that what the Agency is concerned with at this stage is the significance of the impacts on the environment.
The Agency has strengthened its screening process by ensuring appropriate screening questions are asked of the proposed project, site visits are conducted, existing information is gathered and reviewed, and engagement with key agencies and residents in the area of the proposed project is done. The outcome of this process is a screening report on the potential impacts and identification of possible significant impacts to inform the Agency’s decision with regards to an EIA is required or not to further inform its decision to issue and Environmental Permit or not. The EPA has also strengthened its adherence to the Act by publishing reasons for its decisions and making Project Summaries available for public access and review.
In addition, existing activities being authorized are now being subject to section 11 (1) and (2) of the Act. These projects which have been operating for a number of years and not authorized are also being screened to determine if there is potential for legacy and continued significant impacts, and decisions with screening reports published in accordance with section 11 (2) of the Act.
Further, The Agency is ensuring it fulfills a key function of making available to the public a register of information as set out in section 3 (e) and 36 (1) and (7). Whilst, the Act requires a register, the volume of information is insurmountable, and the Agency found it difficult to compile a register per se. As a result, all requests for information are handled by the Communications Department, and are screened to ensure the requested information meets the requirement of the Act and subsequently fulfilled. This is a key area of improvement and ensuring transparency and providing information to the public regarding the decisions of the Agency, and nature and level of compliance of projects being authorized. The Agency intends to pursue the option of making this information available online via a public query system where any member of the public can check on status of application for Environmental Authorization and /or compliance of a particular facility. This is work in progress.
The Agency continues to seek legal advice and clarifications where there are gaps in the interpretation of the Environmental Protection Act. In this regard, EPA made appropriate adjustments to its processes and procedures based on updated legal guidance.
Strengthened compliance and enforcement of permitted facilities
Each project is assessed and placed on a compliance schedule based on the level of risk. In addition to self-monitoring as required by the permit holders, the Agency also conducts routine compliance inspections and may administer various penalties in accordance with the anti-pollution regulations where breaches are found.
The Agency through the establishment of its Complaints and Emergency Response Programme Area is aggressively addressing environmental complaints in a more efficient manner. In this regard, a Complaints Strategy was developed. The Strategy assesses each complaint, identifies the hotspots, and crafts appropriate interventions including capacity building for some categories of stakeholders.
With a backlog of over 2,500 complaints relating to residential and domestic issues, the Agency is collaborating with the Ministry of Local Government and Regional Development to engage the local organs in addressing these matters. While the RDCs and NDCs are mandated by law to deal with localised complaints, lack of resources, training and political influence in the past were cited as main hindrances in resolving these complaints. It is the intention of the EPA to provide support with regards to prosecution and delegation of its functions, while at the same providing capacity building to local authorities on steps to manage and resolve complaints.
The Agency has also met with the Guyana Police Force to coordinate efforts to tackle noise nuisance and the Mayor and City Council (M&CC) to address littering in the capital city. Meanwhile, the Complaints Department has also been meeting with complainants and defaulters in an attempt to arrive at some compromise in light of several issues including zoning and approvals from the relevant authorities (NDCs and CH&PA).
The Department with support from the Health and Safety Specialist has crafted an Emergency Response Roster for staff of the Agency to respond to any emergency that may occur. The Agency has been responding to incidents from natural, technological or human-induced factors, or a combination of these, that may cause or has caused severe environmental damage as well as harm to human health and/or livelihoods. The EPA plans to strengthen its efforts to collaborate with other agencies on early detection of these incidents and the use of GIS/Remote sensing technologies to improve monitoring and reporting.
Strengthened monitoring capabilities
The Agency is developing and will soon launch a remote real time monitoring system and platform to monitor permitted facilities and level of compliance with key environmental parameters. This is being done by a combination of acquiring satellite services, installing sensors for air quality index, and other environmental parameters.
The EPA is in the process of bolstering its monitoring and assessment capability by procuring modern and state of art measurement equipment/instruments and analyses tools to take accurate measurements, and to make credible assessments of impacts of pollutants in air, water and land. This is a basic capability of any environmental regulatory Agency for providing trustworthy and timely assessments of risks and corrective actions.
The Agency currently utilizes drone technology and has amplified the use of GIS and other digital technology for remote monitoring.
Staff continue to capitalise on the virtual webinars facilitated through international and local partnerships. To date 81 staff have participated in virtual webinars focused on areas such as Risk Assessment and Risk Management, climate change and climate mitigation, human rights in Environmental Impact Assessments, reducing emission and air quality impacts and building resilience for oil producers. Additionally, the Agency is working closely with the Ministry of Local Government, specifically the local organs to address the pollution issues within the communities.
Capacity building remains a core component of the Agency of the work. This includes building technical capacity of staff to execute its mandate as well as building the capacity of developers and stakeholders to understand their responsibilities. In this regard, the Agency has:
∙ Established a Training Unit within the Human Resources Department; ∙ Conducted capacity building to manage noise complaints with the Guyana Police Force;
∙ Conducted awareness sessions with private sector bodies on EPA’s processes and procedures;
∙ Coordinated capacity building workshops for Neighbourhood Democratic Councils to effectively investigate and resolve environmental complaints.
The EPA recognises the importance of the public in the preparatory stages of projects that may impact residents. Additionally, the EPA also publishes notices of proposed projects along with the Project Summaries, and provides forums for public engagement.
Of import is the recognition that no organization is perfect; EPA’s management periodically assesses and evaluates the effectiveness of efforts undertaken, and consistently explores ways to improve operations and meet its mandate.