The farce continues

gas at Marsaxlokk

Tomorrow, the Environment and Resources Authority will meet in public to consider the approval of an amendment to the IPPC permit regulating the operations of the power station at Delimara. It is an amendment to an already existing permit as a result of which a definite decision concerning the switch-over to gas-operated turbines will be taken.

The Environment and Resources Authority has been in operation for some months – since February – but this will be the first time it will be possible to observe it in action in a public session.

Last Thursday the Authority, through its secretary to the ‘Environmental permitting-Development Control Commission’ informed those who had taken part in the public consultation that a 71-page document containing responses to feedback received during the public consultation was available online at http://era.org.mt/en/Pages/IPPC-Public-Consultation.aspx.

We are now accustomed to having important information being made available (if at all) at a very late hour and at a time when most people interested in the Delimara public debate are preparing for a well-earned Christmas break.

The document made available last Thursday afternoon, just one working day before the public hearing, is the only document containing the views of the Authority on the subject, even though these views are mostly expressed telegraphically. At the time of writing, I am not aware of the recommendation which the Environment Directorate has submitted for the consideration of the Board of the Authority, that is whether and to what extent it is satisfied with the documentation submitted for its consideration.

The said documentation runs to over 15,000 pages spread into around 300 files of different sizes which could not be adequately examined during the short time available for public consultation, even though this was slightly extended.

Public opinion is not worried about the change to LNG in the operation of the power station. It is, however, still worried about issues of safety. These worries are compounded by the fact that a document prepared by the Civil Protection Department regarding the External Emergency Plan for the Delimara Power Station has been partly excluded from the public consultation exercise. As already stated in a previous article (TMIS, 27 November: A Secret Plan for Delimara) this runs counter to the provisions of the Seveso III Directive of the European Union which has been transposed into the Maltese Statute book through the Control of Major Hazard Regulations of 2015 which provides that: “The Civil Protection Department shall ensure that the public concerned is given early opportunity to give its opinion on external emergency plans when they are being established or substantially modified.”

The Civil Protection Department is failing in its duty to consult. However, by failing to act on the Civil Protection Department’s dereliction of duty, the Environment and Resources Authority, as the ultimate regulator on the matter, is transforming this failure into an abusive exercise of its authority.

How is it possible to voice your opinion on a document that is still shrouded in secrecy?

This is only possible if what should be public consultation is transformed into a farce. The farce continues tomorrow – Monday.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday – 18 December 2016

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A Secret Plan for Delimara

external-emergency-plan-censored

The Seveso Directive of the European Union is a legal instrument originally enacted in 1982. Subsequently amended, the present version was enacted in 2012 and is referred to as the Seveso III Directive.

Its full name is “Directive 2012/18/EU of the European Parliament and of the Council of 4 July 2012 on the control of major-accident hazards involving dangerous substances, amending and subsequently repealing Council Directive 96/82/EC”. It has also been transposed into Maltese legislation through the Control of Major Accident Hazard Regulations 2015.

As the technical name implies, the Seveso III Directive seeks to regulate sites which have the potential for major industrial accidents. It seeks to achieve its aim primarily through prevention but also by planning to minimise the impact of accidents which may occur on such sites.

The Directive was originally enacted as a result of the industrial accident in the Italian town of Seveso in 1976, when toxic fumes emitted from a chemical plant contaminated the surrounding residential area. It aims to improve the safety of such sites, both the safety of the employees working in such sites and the safety of residents, and the commercial communities, in the area.

One such site is the Delimara power station. This site has to follow the rules set out in the Seveso III Directive and in the Maltese regulations which transpose it into Maltese law.

Through these regulations, the Civil Protection Department is responsible for prepare emergency plans to be applied in the event of an accident.  There has to be an internal plan, one that applies to the industrial plant itself, and an external emergency plan, that applies beyond the boundaries of the plant.

The internal emergency plan is drawn up in conjunction with the management of the plant and discussed with the staff. Members of staff are undoubtedly trained not just in the correct running of the plant but also with regard to the protocol they should follow if there is an accident.

The external emergency plan concerns residents and business in the vicinity of the industrial plant. The Seveso III Directive requires that such a plan be subject to public consultation. In fact, regulation 10(5) of the Control of Major Hazard Regulations 2015 states  “The Civil Protection Department shall ensure that the public concerned is given early opportunity to give its opinion on external emergency plans when they are being established or substantially modified.”

Today is, in fact, the closing day for a public consultation exercise organised by the Environment and Resources Authority in respect of the Delimara Power Station. Among the documents which the Authority published for consultation one finds a report entitled External Emergency Plan prepared by the Civil Protection Department. However, the report made available is only part of the full report as the most important part – the part on operational issues – is missing. The available partial-report makes interesting reading, but  we are informed that the censored part has been removed as its availability would be “a threat to national security”.

Those running the Department of Civil Protection are maybe not aware that they have the duty to inform and that in this day and age they have no authority to act as a big brother. The public has the right to be informed and this right is the prerequisite for its active involvement in the formulation and eventual approval of the external emergency plan.

In a democratic society the right of the public to be informed is a basic element of good governance. By opting for secrecy, the Department of Civil Protection has chosen to take a completely different path – one that ignores the citizen and his right to participate in meaningful actions and decisions.

published in The Malta Independent on Sunday : 27 November 2016