Group angry over lack of consultation on new clean air legislation
A clean air advocacy group says the Government has repeatedly failed to consult its members over draft legislation that aims to improve air quality standards in Bermuda.
The Bermuda Clean Air Coalition is made up of residents, businesses, schools and other stakeholders directly affected by chemical emissions, soot fallouts and fuel odours as a result of Belco operations.
The Clean Air Amendment Bill will update the Clean Air Act 1991 to set new limits on potentially harmful emissions, bringing Bermuda’s regulations in line with the UK Air Quality Objective.
Earlier this week, Geoff Smith, environmental engineer for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, speaking on behalf of emissions regulator the Environmental Authority, said: “They [BCAC] are not involved in the consultation process. However, if the group wishes to be involved, a request can be sent to the Ministry of Home Affairs and they will receive a response.”
A spokesman for BCAC told The Royal Gazette: “The Government has not consulted with BCAC on amending the clean air legislation despite BCAC repeatedly requesting meetings with the Government and regulators going back over three years. We once again call for a seat at the table.
“The BCAC team submitted requests for consultation and meetings with the Government. We have been speaking with Dr Geoff Smith. He initially said that there would be no public consultation. However BCAC pressed him on this and he eventually came back saying a consultation would happen.
“He sent an update to BCAC on April 13, 2022 saying a consultation had been approved. Therefore we anticipated a consultation would take place. However BCAC has heard nothing since then from the Government. We are still waiting to meet with the Government on the draft legislation.”
A spokesman for the Ministry of Home Affairs made clear that the Draft Bill is not finalised and when Cabinet approves the Bill, the Minister will inform the public.
Dr Smith said that only the permitted refrigerant handlers have been formally consulted on the legislation thus far, adding: “However, Belco is aware of the proposed alignment of the Bermuda Clean Air Regulations to the UK Air Quality Objectives.”
He added: “Part of the amendments will include the introduction of new odour regulations under the Act. DENR is waiting to receive the new odour-monitoring equipment and training. Once complete, and as part of the formal consultation process, DENR will visit all the licensed, controlled plants (ie Belco, fuel storage facilities, spray paint booths, sewage treatment plants, etc) to conduct odour monitoring related to the various licenses.”
The BCAC spokesman said that local authorities require enforcement powers with “real teeth” via the legislation or face serious punishments.
He added: “Regulators need better monitoring tools to know what the pollution levels are at any moment in time. This is why amending Bermuda's 30-year-old outdated legislation is so important and it is why BCAC demands to be properly consulted before the Government’s drafting process is completed.”
The Royal Gazettethis week reported that last year, levels of sulphur dioxide in an area close to Belco far exceeded annual limits set in Britain and the EU.
The BCAC questioned whether there would be more exceedences of sulphur and other contaminants if there were air monitoring stations positioned in a 360 degree arc around the plant’s perimeter.
Having an independent air quality monitoring programme for the island would be “ideal”, Bermuda’s environmental watchdog has said.
The Ministry of Home Affairs’ decision to defund its own programme in April left Belco to carry out the only official monitoring of air quality.
Dr Geoff Smith, environmental engineer for the Department of Natural Resources and adviser to the Environmental Authority, said on behalf of the EA: “While ideal for a monitoring programme to be independent, Belco is legally required to maintain its certifications to the Environmental Management System ISO14001, which requires the annual auditing of all air monitoring systems.”
Davida Morris, the chairwoman of the EA, has been working on writing a letter to Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs, since April asking him to reconsider the decision. The letter is yet to be sent.
The Royal Gazette asked the ministry whether it was giving any consideration to reversing the decision. Dr Smith, responding only on behalf of the EA, said that priority was being given to reinstate one unit which has been out of operation since June owing to a landowner wanting it moved.
“In terms of the highest concentrations of airborne contaminants, the monitoring priority is the re-establishment of a portable monitoring station at Ocean Lane/Whitney Avenue, Pembroke,” Dr Smith said.
Belco and DENR are working to find a new location for the unit until which time there will be no monitoring at the site.
Scientific equipment for air-monitoring stations at East Broadway in Pembroke, as well as Prospect, Devonshire and one in St George’s were stopped. The Government said the decision was made owing to budget cuts.