ERA’s accountability: keeping up the pressure

On Tuesday, slightly after 11am I received a telephone call from the EIA office at the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA) informing me that the Waste to Energy (WtE) Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) has been resubmitted for public consultation by Wasteserv.

Last October I had presented a number of submissions in response to the Waste to Energy EIA. Hence being informed by ERA of this latest development.

Exchanges between ERA and Wasteserv on the matter are not in the public domain. However, from the various reports in the media one can draw a fairly accurate picture as to what has transpired between 23 December 2020, when the “original” EIA was subject to an online public hearing and last Monday when the ERA website made the “new” EIA available for the latest round of public consultation. The minutes of the public hearing are available on the ERA website.

ERA has rejected the original EIA submitted by Wasteserv and sent it back to the drawing board.

Some may rejoice that ERA has, for the first time ever, rejected an EIA. It would, in my view, be more pertinent to ask why ERA has taken so long to assert its authority.  It has been hibernating for too long a time. There were many instances in the past when it should have acted similarly but it did not. That is an issue worth examining in depth. In particular ERA needs a thorough overhaul of the procedures in use for the vetting of EIA experts and coordinators.

Notwithstanding, I believe that ERA’s rejection of the original WtE EIA is a positive first. It is an encouraging sign that the environmental lobby’s work is bearing fruit. We need to keep up the pressure to ensure that all public authorities get to their senses the soonest. They must realise that the public is fed up with authorities that are generally insensitive to good governance.

From the various press reports it has transpired that ERA’s instructions to Wasteserv were that the EIA had to be drawn up again without making use of the services of Engineer Mario Schembri, the coordinator of the original EIA. ERA issued this instruction in order to address my submissions that Engineer Schembri’s involvement at various levels of the waste management industry in Malta constituted a conflict of interest as a result of which he could be neither independent nor impartial as an EIA coordinator, as is clearly spelt out in sub-regulation 17(2) of the EIA Regulations.

Did ERA need to be in receipt of such submissions in order to act? The relative information is public knowledge and has been so for quite some time: ERA could and should have acted on its own initiative long ago!

I had also pointed out that the EIA documentation submitted under the direction of coordinator Engineer Mario Schembri was incomplete as it quoted relevant reports which were not made available to the public to be scrutinised as part of the public consultation exercise. These reports dealt with the site selection exercise for the WtE project, a major issue of controversy. No explanation was ever forthcoming for this omission. However, I note that the “new” EIA now includes both “missing” reports.  The first report was drawn up in December 2015 while the second one was drawn up in December 2019.

The next steps require an analysis of the coordinated assessment submitted by the new coordinator Dr Joe Doublet specifically in order to identify and assess the difference in his assessment of the technical studies which are being resubmitted. The coordinated assessment by Dr Joe Doublet runs into 507 pages. Its perusal will therefore take some time!

This should lead to considering the extent to which the submitted studies together with the new coordinated assessment address the concerns of stakeholders thereby ensuring that the country’s environmental objectives can be met without subjecting anyone to unnecessary impacts and/or hardships.

Various stakeholders have so far, to their credit, spoken up.

It is up to the environment lobby to ensure that Wastserv’s proposed operations are properly scrutinised. This is the purpose of the EIA process which is managed by ERA.

The current public debate is one way of being sure that ERA’s accountability to the public is real, not fake. This is the only way that the whole community can be protected.

I will keep up the pressure, holding ERA continuously to account for its shortcomings.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday: 2 May 2021

Incinerating trust, fairness and common sense

A public consultation is currently under way until the 21 October relative to an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) which examines Wasteserve’s proposal:  the development of a Waste to Energy Facility, to operate in conjunction with other management operations within the so-called Magħtab Environmental Complex.

It is a duty of Wasteserve defined in terms of the EU environmental acquis applicable within Maltese territory to examine the environmental impacts of its proposal within the framework of agreed terms of reference approved by the Environment and Resources Authority (ERA). The detailed reports together with the supporting technical information are then subject to public consultation.

The EIA in respect of the Magħtab incinerator is commissioned by Wasteserve, however it serves to inform the whole decision-taking process. Contrary to the disclaimer by the EIA’s coordinator in the first few pages, the reports forming the EIA are not “for the exclusive use of Wasteserve Malta Limited”. I fail to understand how ERA has accepted to include this disclaimer when it is clear, even from a cursory look at the Environment Impact Assessment Regulations that the EIA is an important document which informs the environmental and land use planning decision-taking process. It is in particular used to inform the public and on its basis a public hearing is organised to take feedback from all interested parties.

The EIA is certainly a public document in respect of which its coordinator has to shoulder responsibility as to its accuracy and reasonableness. Having a disclaimer as that indicated above is certainly not acceptable. ERA should pull up its socks and ensure the deletion of the said disclaimer forthwith.

A cursory look at the Magħtab incinerator EIA, including the technical studies attached reveals the names of a number of experts who have given their input in the formulation of the studies required which studies are then distilled in an appropriate assessment report.

One of these experts is a certain professor Alan Deidun who concurrently with participating in this specific EIA is also a member of the ERA Board, the environmental regulator. He sits on the ERA Board after being nominated by the environmental NGOs as established by legislation.

Professor Alan Deidun is conveniently with one foot on each side of the fence: forming part of the regulatory structure and simultaneously advising the developer, in this case Wasteserve Malta Limited, a government entity. In my book this is the type of conflict of interest which instils a deep sense of distrust of the regulatory authorities. Alan Deidun is running with the hares and hunting with the hounds.

Can we ever trust “regulators” who, whenever they feel like it, offer their services to those they “regulate”?

Interestingly, one of the documents available for public scrutiny contains a declaration by twenty-one expert contributors to the EIA, each of whom declares that s/he has no conflict of interest: the conflict however being narrowly defined in terms of an interest in the development itself.  The EIA Regulations do not limit “conflict of interest” to an interest in the development but speak of “no conflict of interests”. No wonder even Professor Alan  Deidun signed this declaration!

Regulation 17 of the EIA Regulations of 2017 lays down that those carrying out the EIA must be “professional, independent and impartial”. How can the regulator be “professional, independent and impartial” when he starts advising those s/he regulates?

It is about time that the environmental NGOs recall Professor Alan Deidun from his role as a member of the ERA Board representing them, as such behaviour is unacceptable in this day and age.

It may be pertinent to point out that very recently, a development permit, in respect of the development of Manoel Island, was withdrawn by the Environment and Planning Tribunal due to the fact that one of the contributors to the EIA had a conflict of interest.

It is about time that regulators understand that their acceptance to sit on decision-taking structures puts limits on their permissible professional activities. Until such time that this basic point is acted upon our authorities cannot be fully trusted. Their behaviour is incinerating trust, fairness and common sense.

published on The Malta Independent on Sunday : 11 October 2020

Infrastruttura Malta qed tinjora l-unika soluzzjoni

Għadhom kif ġew ippubblikati l-istudji li jiffurmaw parti mill-EIA (Environmental Impact Assessment) dwar il-proġett infrastrutturali tat-toroq bejn l-Imrieħel u Ħ’Attard : is-Central Link Project. Il-konsultazzjoni pubblika ser tibqa’ għaddejja sal-21 ta’ Frar 2019.

L-istudji ippubblikati huma voluminużi. Apparti r-rapport finali miktub mill-koordinatur tal-EIA b’543 paġna hemm 11-il rapport tekniku dwar temi ta’ relevanza. Dawn ivarjaw mill-użu tal-art, il-pajsaġġ u l-impatti viżivi, il-ġeoloġija, l-ilma, l-ekoloġija, l-agrikultura, l-arkejoloġija, l-kwalità tal-arja, il-ħsejjes, l-infrastruttura u s-servizzi u l-aċċess pubbliku.

Dawn ir-rapporti nkitbu bejn Awwissu 2015 u Jannar 2019 u fihom madwar 1400 paġna. Fiż-żmien qasir li ilhom aċċessibli ma kienx possibli li jinqraw kollha. Imma, l-posizzjoni li qed tieħu Infrastruttura Malta, bla ebda dubju a bażi ta’ direzzjoni politika, hi waħda ċara ħafna.

Infrastruttura Malta qed tipproponi li tindirizza l-konġestjoni tat-traffiku fit-toroq tagħna bil-bini jew twessiegħ ta’ toroq flmkien mat-titjib ġenerali tal-infrastruttura tagħhom. B’dan il-mod, jidhrilha li l-konġestjoni tkun eliminata inkella tonqos drastikament. Dan għandu jwassal għal inqas emissjonijiet u allura titjieb il-kwalità tal-arja, jonqos il-ħin li jintilef tistenna fit-traffiku u allura jonqos ukoll il-konsum tal-petrol u d-dijsil li jinħela bil-karozzi weqfin jistennew.

Fil-Kapitlu 3 tar-rapport finali miktub mill-koordinatur tal-EIA hemm eżami tal-alternattivi għall-proġett ta’ toroq propost. Hemm sitt alternattivi li huma kkunsidrati. Dawn ivarjaw milli ma tagħmel xejn għal numru ta’ soluzzjonijiet infrastrutturali differenti. (ara paġna 66 tar-rapport)

Fir-rapport tiegħu l-koordinatur tal-EIA injora waħda mill-iktar miri ċari tal-Pjan Nazzjonali tat-Trasport 2025: it-tnaqqis tal-karozzi mit-toroq. Meta kien approvat dan il-pjan nazzjonali stabilixxa numru ta’ miri operattivi. Il-mira 2.2.2 tistabilixxi l-ħtieġa ta’ alternattivi għall-karozzi privati biex tkun inkoraġġuta mobilità sostenibbli u tnaqqas il-karozzi miz-żoni fejn hemm il-konġestjoni. (Provide alternatives to private vehicles to encourage sustainable travel patterns and reduce private vehicular demand in the congested hub area). Il-pjan jispjega li dan l-oġġettiv kien identifikat li madwar ħamsin fil-mija tal-vjaġġi li jsiru b’karozzi privati jdumu inqas minn kwarta, liema fatt juri li dawn huma fuq distanzi qosra ħafna (ara paġna 95 tal-pjan).

L-EIA li Infrastruttura Malta tippreżenta għall-konsultazzjoni pubblika jonqos milli jikkunsidra l-implimentazzjoni ta’ dan il-mira fost l-alternattivi differenti kkunsidrati bħala soluzzjonijiet possibli għall-konġestjoni tat-traffiku. Probabbilment li Infrastruttura Malta qed tiffaċċja nuqqas ta’ rieda politika biex tittieħed azzjoni. Xi ħadd jeħtieġ li jispjega għaliex din l-għodda qed tkun skartata daqshekk malajr wara li ddaħlet tifforma parti mill-pjan tat-trasport.

Iktar kmieni dan ix-xahar konna nfurmati b’żieda sostanzjali fl-użu tat-trasport pubbliku matul l-2018. Kien rappurtat li kien hemm 53.4 miljun passiġġier li għamlu użu mit-trasport pubbliku fl-2018. Żieda ta’ 11.25% fuq l-2017. Hu ċar li l-pubbliku qed jirrispondi billi jagħmel użu mit-trasport sostenibbli offrut għall-użu tiegħu.

Transport Malta teħtieġ li taġixxi mingħajr iktar dewmien. Hemm ħtieġa ta’ pjan ċar biex tkun implimentata l-mira tat-tnaqqis tal-karozzi mit-toroq tagħna. Din hi l-iktar soluzzjoni li tagħmel sens għax hi soluzzjoni li tħares fit-tul. Meta dan il-pjan ikun stabilit, imbagħad ikun possibli li l-proġett Central Link ikun ikkunsudrat mill-ġdid f’kuntrast ma alternattiva realistika.

Sfortunatament il-Gvern naqas milli jifhem li diġa kellu f’idejh is-soluzzjoni għall-problema tal-konġestjoni tat-traffika. Soluzzjoni li tindirizza l-kawza (il-karozzi) flok ma tindirizza l-effett.

Huwa nuqqas kbir li l-EIA jonqos milli jqis dan kollu. Għax l-EIA suppost li hu proċess ta’ eżami indipendenti tas-soluzzjonijiet għall-problemi li ser ikunu indirizzati. Jeħtieġ li dan in-nuqqas ikun indirizzat immedjatament.


Ippubblikat fuq Illum : Il-Ħadd 20 ta’ Jannar 2019





Infrastructure Malta is missing the real alternative

The studies forming part of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) on the Central Link project dealing with the road infrastructure between Mrieħel and Attard has just been published. Public consultation runs up to 21 February 2019.

The studies published are voluminous. In addition to the coordinated assessment report – running into 543 pages – there are 11 technical reports dealing with various issues of considerable relevance. They deal with land cover and uses, landscape character and visual amenities, geology, water, ecology, agriculture, archaeology, air quality, noise, infrastructure and utilities and public access.

The reports dated between August 2015 and January 2019 run into approximately 1400 pages. In the limited time for which all the different reports have been available, it has not yet been possible to read through them.

Notwithstanding, the general approach of Infrastructure Malta – undoubtedly as a result of Ministerial direction – is very clear. It is proposed by Infrastructure Malta to alleviate the various bottlenecks on our roads, and the resulting traffic congestion, through the construction of new roads, the widening of existing ones and the upgrading of junctions. It is envisaged that, as a result of doing away with bottlenecks, the level of emissions will be reduced, thereby improving air quality, the time lost in traffic will be eliminated as well as the over-consumption of fuel, resulting in savings in both the fuel used and the emissions generated.

Chapter 3 of the coordinated assessment examines and assesses alternatives to the proposal under consideration. Six alternatives are considered, ranging from a do-nothing option to a number of specific infrastructural solutions, including a combination of such solutions (see page 66 of the coordinated assessment).

The coordinated assessment ignores one clear and specific objective of the National Transport Master-Plan 2025, that is a reduction in the number of cars on our roads. Approved in 2016, this master plan establishes a number of operational objectives for the implementation of transport policy. Objective 2.2.2 establishes the following: “Provide alternatives to private vehicles to encourage sustainable travel patterns and reduce private vehicular demand in the congested hub area”. The master plan explains that “this objective has been developed since the data shows that about 50 per cent of trips are under 15 minutes, illustrating that mobility is produced at a local level on very short paths.” (see page 95 of Master Plan)

The EIA presented by Infrastructure Malta for public consultation fails to consider the implementation of this objective among the various alternatives that can be used to address traffic congestion. It is possible that Infrastructure Malta is facing a brick wall due to a lack of political will to implement this objective. Someone needs to explain why this policy route is being discarded so soon after it being included into the Master Plan.

Earlier this month, we were informed about the substantial increase in the patronage of public transport. It was reported that during 2018, 53.4 million people had used public transport: an increase of 11.25% over 2017. It is clear that the public is responding through the uptake of the sustainable transport options being made available.

Transport Malta needs to stop procrastinating and take the bull by the horns. A road map for implementing the objective of reducing the number of cars from our roads is the only sensible way forward. It is the long-term view which is missing in our transport policy. Once this road map is clearly defined, then it would be easier to reassess – and probably substantially redefine and downscale – the Central Link project on the basis of a realistic alternative.

The government has, unfortunately, failed to appreciate that it has already identified policy tools with which to tackle traffic congestion. It had a solution in hand which targeted the cause of the problem: cars.

That the EIA also fails to assess this alternative is a significant flaw in the process, as this assessment should be an independent examination of the possible solutions to the identified problem. It needs to be addressed forthwith.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 20 January 2019

Fejn xejn m’hu xejn, m’hemmx konflitt ta’ interess

Timothy Gambin2                        Victor Axiaq

Bħalkom qrajt id-dikjarazzjonijiet tal-Professur Victor Axiak u tal-arkejologu marittimu Dr Timothy Gambin fejn qalu li minkejja li taw il-kontribut professjonali tagħhom fl-EIA tal-Power Station tal-gass f’Delimara huma qatt ma irrappurtaw lill-membri individwali tal-konsorzju.

Huma qalu li jirrappurtaw direttament lill-koordinatur tal-EIA u qatt lill-applikant.

Din il-kontroversja ma bdietx b’Axiaq u Gambin imma ilha sejra is-snin. Ir-responsabbiltajiet ta’ dawk li jħejju l-EIA, irrispettivament lil min jirrappurtaw, m’humiex kompatibbli mar-responsabbiltà li tkun membru tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar jew tal-Awtorità tal-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi.

Ma jagħmilx sens illi fuq kaz jagħmlu r-rapport tal-EIA u ma jeħdux sehem fid-deċiżjoni imma fuq każi oħra jibqgħu hemm. Jeħtieġ li jifhmu illi l-funżjoni tal-membri ta’ dawn iż-żewġ awtoritajiet (Ippjanar u Ambjent/Riżorsi) hi waħda li jgħidulha kważi-ġudizzjarja. Meta terfa’ l-piz li tagħti d-deċiżjonijiet ma tagħżilx inti li f’xi każi tħejji r-rapporti u f’oħrajn tiddeċiedi. Qiesu avukat li għal xi kazi jirrappreżenta lill-klijenti tiegħu u għal oħrajn joqgħod fuq il-pultruna ta’ imħallef!

Ma jistgħux ikunu fuq iż-żewġ naħat, anke jekk jiddefinixxu lilhom infushom bħala “indipendenti”. Għax hekk jippretendu li huma. Indipendenti dejjem. Meta jħejju r-rapport jgħidu li huma indipendenti u meta jkunu fuq l-awtorità biex jiddeċiedu jippretendu li huma indipendenti ukoll. Indipendenti minn xiex?

Fil-fehma tiegħi u ta’ ħafna ambjentalisti oħra, l-indipendenza tal-membri individwali tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar u tal-Awtorità tal-Ambjent u r-Riżorsi hi kompromessa kull darba li dawn jaċċettaw l-inkarigu li jħejju parti mir-rapport tal-EIA għal xi proġett partikolari.

Iridu jagħżlu. Jew membri indipendenti tal-awtorità inkella esperti indipendenti li jħejju r-rapporti. Imma dawn iridu jagħmlu it-tnejn, kif jgħidu l-Inġliżi: running with the hares and hunting with the hounds!

Kif jista’ membru tal-Awtorità tal-Ippjanar jippretendi li waqt li hu membru ta’ din l-awtorità jibqa’ jipprattika ta’ konsulent dwar l-EIAs? Kif jista’ membru jippretendi li meta titla’ applikazzjoni dwar proġett għal deċiżjoni  quddiem l-Awtorità dwar persuna li kienet “klijent” tiegħu, qiesu ma ġara xejn.

F’pajjiż żgħir bħal tagħna m’huwiex aċċettabbli li l-membri tal-awtoritajiet ikunu fuq ix-żewġ naħat anke jekk f’każi differenti. Hemm konflitti kbar li m’humiex ser jissolvew bid-dikjarazzjonijiet li għalihom kollox sar sewwa.

Għax saru sewwa l-affarijiet biss, fejn xejn m’hu xejn.