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Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar yesterday rejected a call by president general of the Oilfields Workers’ Trade Union (OWTU) Ancel Roget for an urgent meeting to discuss the recent Petrotrin oil spills at La Brea and other districts in south Trinidad. Roget requested the meeting via a hand-delivered letter to Persad-Bissessar’s office on Wednesday. Speaking at yesterday’s post-Cabinet news conference at the Office of the Prime Minister in St Clair, Persad-Bissessar said such a meeting “may not be appropriate at this time.” She said her reasons for refusing to meet with the union urgently were because the oil spills were still being investigated and an independent task force was being set up with specific objectives.
The Prime Minister suggested that “it would be inappropriate for her to make pronouncements without the investigation being complete, and without a proper assessment being done on what took place.” She added that the Government was committed to do all it could to assist residents and to ensure the beaches affected were cleaned as soon as possible. She announced the Cabinet’s approval for the setting up of a National Environmental Assessment Task Force. Persad-Bissessar, however, was unable to name the members of the commission as they were still being selected.
The terms of reference of the task force included:
• to oversee all activities that are necessary to address the environmental impacts of the oil spills affecting the coastline of the south-western peninsula
• provide guidance to the Environmental Management Authority, the lead agency in the clean-up efforts
• confirm all sources of the oil spills into the Gulf of Paria
• co-ordinate and monitor the work carried out by government departments and other public bodies
• assess the environmental impact of the Petrotrin oil spills and the subsequent clean-up activities
• establish shoreline clean-up and assessment teams
• undertake surveys of damaged resources at sites to determine damage assessment
• identify final prioritisation, decide which detail studies to undertake and document assessment process, reasons for decisions and priorities and strategies
• document the fate and behaviour of the oil and the effectiveness of the clean-up
• initiate and co-ordinate studies to ensure that a comprehensive set of monitoring data on environmental distribution and impacts be obtained
• determine the overall impact of the incidents on the environmental resources of the area affected.