ENVIRONMENTAL lobbyists witnessed a victory yesterday when Government took what those groups hope will be the first step towards regulating the quarrying industry.
Housing and Environment Minister, Dr Roodal Moonilal has formally given back the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) the power to grant or deny Certificates of Environmental Clearance (CEC) to quarries of or under 150 acres.
This was removed from the EMA under the previous administration through amendments to the Environmental Management Act.
In 2007, an amendment removed Designated Activity 23, which dealt with the establishment of mining and associated facilities, from the jurisdiction of the EMA and in 2008, the same was done with Activity 8, which dealt with the clearing, excavation and grading down of land for the purpose of mining.
Energy Minister Kevin Ramnarine, who was also at the event, said the amendments "contributed to the wildness" in the quarrying industry. The quarrying industry falls under his portfolio and both Moonilal and Ramnarine were behind a stop work order in the face of objections from the Asa Wright Nature Centre, in Arima.
Yesterday's signing at the Hyatt Regency in Port of Spain came less than a week after National Quarries Company Limited (NQCL) halted work on the northern side of its Scott's Quarry in Verdant Vale Valley when the Centre and its supporters protested that the Centre's main vista was being ruined by the stripping of the ridge face.
Yesterday's Ministerial order is not retroactive and the EMA must now try to bring under its control those quarries which were licensed after the amendments.
Since the amendments, only two quarries applied for CECs while others of the same size were able to circumvent the law by breaking up their quarries into parcels smaller than 150 acres.
"To partially address this issue, I have asked the EMA to implement the Water Pollution Rules to the full extent of the law and it is my intent to see the passage of the Air Pollution Rules (in Parliament) in the very near future to also provide options to the EMA for ensuring that quarries without CECs operate in an environmentally responsible manner," Moonilal said, adding that for every legal quarry, there is an illegal counterpart.