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Clean air group wants a seat at the table to discuss legislation

Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs (File photograph)

A clean air advocacy group is questioning the timeline for the drafting of new clean air laws aimed at curbing pollution, saying it has received mixed messages from the Government.

The Bermuda Clean Air Coalition, launched in direct response to pollution from Belco, said it has not been formally invited for consultation yet was told by a government representative that draft legislation was ready for consultation in April. The Government said in a post-Throne Speech press conference it is not ready.

Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs, told ZBM in June: “My goal is to have legislation tabled and passed before the end of this year to deal with the situation”, leading the group to believe time is almost up.

However, in the 2022 Throne Speech, it was stated that it would be dealt with in this legislative session, and the minister told The Royal Gazette last week that it is not intended to be passed before the 2022 calendar year.

The ministry said in a post-Throne Speech press conference that the legislation has yet to be drafted and the public will be consulted.

A spokesman for the BCAC said: “Minister Walter Roban said in an interview with ZBM that he hoped the legislation would be passed ‘before the end of this year’. If correct, it means there isn’t sufficient time to provide feedback before the end of the year.

“BCAC expects there to be a full consultation with the public on the updated clean air legislation. This critical step in the process must not be rushed.“

Geoff Smith, environmental engineer for the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, wrote to the BCAC on April 13 saying: "We can report that the proposed Clean Air Act Amendment Bill for Bermuda has been approved to start the consultative process leading to drafting instructions to be approved and written into law.“

The Royal Gazette reported earlier this month that the group has repeatedly requested to be consulted. Dr Smith, speaking on behalf of the Environmental Authority, said 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 the ministry said the BCAC was informed this month in writing in response to its query that the Bill has not been drafted and so consultation cannot be invited or take place.

The ministry spokesman added: “Amendments to the Clean Air Act 1991 still need to be drafted.

“Technical Bills such as this are complex and require a great deal of careful attention. In preparing the drafting instructions, several internal and external agencies, locally and abroad, were consulted to ensure that we are employing current and sound best practices and the legislation can be properly and adequately enforced.

“However, before the Bill is tabled in the legislature, minister Roban has committed to publishing a consultative draft to the general public for feedback.”

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.

The spokesman for the BCAC added: “It has been 30 years since the legislation was last updated and Bermuda suffers as a direct result of the out-of-date laws.”

He said “unacceptable” levels of soot fallout from Belco are landing on nearby residences, causing area residents’ “houses to be stained brown with rust, their lungs to be clogged with burnt diesel and their water tanks rendered undrinkable”.

He added: “There is massive island-wide pollution taking place which is impacting everyone and nothing meaningful is being done to solve the problem because the current laws allow for this to happen. Meanwhile, Belco proudly boasts that it is meeting all the required health and safety standards.

“In a modern First World jurisdiction in 2022, these high levels of pollution would be considered outrageous.”

Clean air laws not only help to monitor emissions from Belco but also other sources including traffic, a significant source of air pollution in Bermuda.

A spokesman for Belco said last week it welcomed “island-wide air quality monitoring to further improve the island’s data collection of air contaminants” suggesting it is aware this will form part of the new legislation.

In April, the Government defunded its own air monitoring programme, carried out by an independent third party, to save the Ministry of Home Affairs $230,000, leaving Belco to carry out checks.

Dr Smith said recently that only “permitted refrigerant handlers” had been consulted on the legislation to date.

He added that Belco was aware of the proposed alignment of the Bermuda’s Clean Air Regulations to the UK Air Quality Objectives which permit fewer levels of gases such as sulphur dioxide, nitrogen dioxide and particulate matter than Bermuda’s regulations.

The upcoming legislation is also expected to make new provisions for odour control.

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Published November 28, 2022 at 7:30 am (Updated November 28, 2022 at 11:23 am)

Clean air group wants a seat at the table to discuss legislation

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