Corporations will now have to pay larger fees than smaller organisations for water pollution. Environmental legislation stipulating the same fees, regardless of the size of the company and the amount of pollution they release into the environment, has been deemed illegal.
In a 28-page judgment, delivered in the Port-of-Spain High Court, Justice Devindra Rampersad ruled that existing calculations of annual permit fees under the Water Pollution (Fees) (Amendment) Regulations 2006 are illegal and contrary to the National Environmental Policy (NEP), which was adopted by the Government in 1998.
The judicial-review lawsuit which challenged the legislation was brought by the environmental activist group Fishermen and Friends of the Sea, in December 2008 and listed the Ministry of Environment as the respondent.
The legislation requires entities to pay a flat $10,000 annual fee, which is collected by the Environmental Management Authority (EMA), and allows the holder to pollute the environment under terms and conditions specified by the EMA.
In its defence the ministry brought several witnesses, including former Environment Minister Dr Reeza Mohammed, who claimed the existing policy was the most user-friendly and sustainable.
Rampersad said: “ Without a doubt, the issue of the preservation of water as a resource is a very important national and international issue which must be handled with care and planning after a careful and thorough consideration of all the factors, balancing the economic needs of the country with the need to preserve our environment in the present and for the future.”
The principle, which was suggested by the group in its lawsuit, states that the party responsible for producing pollution should be responsible for paying for the damage done to the natural environment. “It seems rather doubtful that a polluter which has a complex potential for pollution should be really charged the same fee as an entity whose effluent is more easily distinguished and determined,” Rampersad said.
He gave a practical example of a small poultry farm’s waste being compared to that of a chemical plant. Using the current system, both would be required to pay the same annual fee. After Rampersad delivered the judgment, Senior Counsel Martin Daly requested a stay of execution, which was granted for 21 days pending an appeal.
Rampersad also ordered the State to pay the group’s legal fees. In an interview after the case, the group’s spokesman Gary Aboud hailed the result as a victory for the people. “It addresses the marriage between big corporate industrial sectors and the Government, who have been traditionally bedfellows, through the EMA. “The courts have saved T&T from the looseness of crude politicians and governments who have allowed this degradation of the environment to occur,” Aboud said.