Matters Environmental

From: Francois van Wyk []
Sent: Wednesday, March 29, 2006 11:18 AM

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From:   Marc de Fontaine  
Sent:   Wednesday, March 29, 2006 10:12 AM
Subject:       scary reading

Ministries aim to trash green laws

20 March 200

Author : Fiona Macleod Mail and Guardian

Government departments, under pressure to deliver economic growth, have launched a broadside against environmental legislation, saying it is holding up development and should be scrapped.   

New regulations streamlining environmental impact assessments (EIAs) have been stalled for more than a year, partly because of high-level power-mongering. Environmental consultants are worried that the regulations, which mitigate harmful ecological practices and ensure public participation, may never see the light of day.

A consultant with close links to the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism, who did not want to be named, said there were strong views in the "economic cluster" of ministries that EIAs should be totally scrapped. "EIAs are extremely contentious because there is a perception they hold up development."

Minister of housing Lindiwe Sisulu said last month she had given the construction industry an undertaking that housing delivery would no longer be delayed by EIAs. "We cannot forever be held hostage by butterfly eggs that have been laid, because environmentalists would care about those things that are important for the preservation of the environment, while we sit around and wait for them to conclude the environmental studies," Sisulu was quoted as saying.

A battle for control of EIAs has been raging between the Department of Environmental Affairs and the Department of Minerals and Energy since the new regulations were gazetted for comment in January last year. The regulations would bring mining EIAs under the control of environmental affairs, but the minerals department -- currently responsible for regulating the ecological impacts of mining and monitoring rehabilitation -- has resisted the change.

Minister of Minerals and Energy Lindiwe Hendricks and Minister of Environmental Affairs Marthinus van Schalkwyk discussed the issue at a meeting in late February -- days before the new regulations were expected to be promulgated. Neither party was prepared to discuss the outcome of those discussions, but the regulations are still on hold.

"It is being suggested by various high-level sources that high-level opposition is the reason for the delay -- and that the regulations may never see the light of day because 'environmental concerns' are unnecessarily obstructing government's delivery programmes," said Nick King, director of environmental NGO, the Endangered Wildlife Trust.

Other growth departments with gripes about EIAs include public enterprises, trade and industry and water affairs and forestry. Delays in infrastructure roll-out by parastatals such as Transnet and Eskom are also being blamed on EIA processes.

Several officials in the Department of Environmental Affairs and Torusim told the Mail & Guardian that calls by other government departments to scrap EIAs entirely were "an open secret". In response to questions, department spokesperson JP Louw denied the calls. However, he said: "Government is concerned about any delay, costs and associated impacts on economic growth and development. This is why we need improved efficiency and effectiveness without compromising basic environmental rights and quality."

Analysts said one reason EIA regulations had to be reviewed was that key national development initiatives could be held up indefinitely in the courts. For instance, Earthlife Africa had succeeded in stalling development of the Pebble Bed Modular Reactor for the past three years.

"In some respects the environmental lobby has completely overshot the mark," said one expert. "Our EIAs are a First World-type system, but our development needs are more Third World."

The new regulations are expected to streamline administrative processes, to list the types of activities where EIAs must be done -- the present regulations have blanket provisions for all land-use changes -- and to increase penalties for failure to comply from a R100 000 fine to R5-million or 10 years in jail.

King said the EIA process was often wrongly blamed for bad planning and rivalry between government departments. His organisation and other environmental NGOs have written to Minister of Finance Trevor Manuel, calling on him to set aside R1-billion of the R375-billion earmarked in last month's Budget for the Accelerated Shared Growth Initiative for South Africa to conduct a full-scale national strategic environmental assessment.

"There is a lack of integrated strategic planning and decisions are being taken ad hoc in a vacuum," King told the M&G. "We need a national assessment to determine just what is and isn't feasible in terms of national development, if it is to be sustainable and serve future generations as well."


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