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Environmental firm calls for consultation expansion

Belco smokestacks (File photograph)

An environmental consultancy firm has urged the Government to extend its consultancy period for legislation intended to update air pollution standards.

The Clean Air Amendment Bill, put online last month for public consultation, is intended to refine the limit values of pollutants to help reduce acute and chronic risks to the public and the environment.

However, the Earth Forward Group has called on the Government to push the deadline for feedback beyond July 9.

The group, which said it has been working with the Bermuda Clean Air Coalition and the Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce, said the three-week window for public consultation was insufficient.

The EFG noted that the European Union’s Better Regulation agenda allows up to 28 weeks of public consultation for legislation, while Britain recommends a minimum 12-week consultation period for legislative proposals

“We applaud the ministry for seeking stakeholder input and we certainly understand the many pressures of policy implementation timelines,” the organisation said.

“However, we find the length of the comment period on the 2024 Clean Air Act Amendment to be wholly inadequate for expert organisations to produce substantive and constructive feedback.

“For instance, our coalition would like to engage with air-regulation experts and take additional time to benchmark suggestions in the amendments with other jurisdictions.

“Given the gravity of the proposed amendments to Bermuda’s Clean Air Act of 1991, we urge the ministry to extend the consultation period to a minimum of 12 weeks, with a proposed deadline no earlier than September 10, 2024.

“If the Government of Bermuda truly values their public’s response, they would align Bermuda’s legislative process more closely with international standards of transparency and public engagement, demonstrating a genuine commitment to soliciting and incorporating public feedback.”

The organisation also urged the Government to consider stakeholder meetings to discuss the content of public comments once ministry staff have had time to review them.

“This would be a progressive and highly participatory step between receiving comments and finalisation of regulatory text.”

The organisation also questioned the timing of the consultation period, noting that because schools are closed for the summer many parents and students are on holiday and less able to provide input.

“This is particularly concerning because air pollution from power production significantly affects numerous schools and thousands of students on the island,” they said.

“The brief input period also raises concerns about whether residents possess the necessary fluency in legal jargon to create meaningful prompt responses to the proposed legislation.”

The public consultation period is scheduled to conclude tomorrow, with the public able to provide feedback online through forum.gov.bm.

Walter Roban, the Minister of Home Affairs, announced the consultation process last month, stating that it was hoped the feedback would be used to amend the legislation so it could be tabled in the House of Assembly next month.

The regulations would not come into effect for six months after they are approved to give organisations time to adjust to the new standards.

The Bermuda Clean Air Coalition, which has campaigned for amendments to air pollution legislation, previously said after the announcement that it had not been consulted on the amendments and urged for the deadline to be pushed back.

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Published July 08, 2024 at 7:58 am (Updated July 08, 2024 at 7:58 am)

Environmental firm calls for consultation expansion

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