A review committee will be set up to recommend changes to the National Conservation Law, with Premier Alden McLaughlin outlining concerns that the landmark legislation has tipped the scales too far in favor of environmental protection.
Mr. McLaughlin, during his budget statement Friday, insisted his government was not abandoning its commitment to protecting the natural environment.
But he said some of the “practical applications” of the law had differed from what was envisaged on paper and indicated his government will seek to roll back the law’s impact on “responsible development.”
He took particular issue with Sections 41 and 43 of the law, which give the National Conservation Council power to require a developer or government ministry to conduct an environmental impact assessment on a major development before it can be approved.
He said this impacted both government and private developers.
“These sections allow the council broad and generally unfettered discretion to require environmental impact assessments in a wide range of cases,” the premier warned.
He said the review committee would be appointed by the end of the year and would begin working early next year to examine the contentious aspects of the law and recommend changes.
He said the scope of the review would go beyond the section of the law dealing with environmental impact assessments.
“Other provisions of the law raise similar concerns as to whether the right balance exists between conservation and development, such as Section 21 dealing with coastal works permits,” he said.
“Given the varied concerns expressed, the Cabinet has determined that it will appoint a stakeholder committee with a sufficient cross section of representation to review these and any other issues that the committee may come across as a part of the exercise.”
The National Conservation Council has not responded to the comments.
In a June letter to the Cayman Compass responding to criticism of the EIA process, council president Christine Rose-Smyth said that at that time it had recommended only six projects, out of 368 reviewed, for such assessments.
She said the studies were only recommended for major development where the Department of Environment lacked the in-house expertise to give a considered opinion without further study.
Her letter stated, “It should be abundantly clear that the EIA procedure is invoked sparingly, and only when the NCC and DoE agree that there are such significant gaps, in either the technical information available for the assessment of potential impacts, or in the technical expertise available, that additional studies and assessment are required.
“This point cannot be overstressed – conducting an EIA involves time and resources in preparing the terms of reference and draft environmental statement, reviewing large volumes of technical studies and carrying out required public consultations. An EIA decision is therefore never taken frivolously.
“It must always be remembered that an EIA does not make the decision on a project; it is a tool that assists decision makers in making fair, technically sound, transparent and robust decisions, weighing the adverse environmental effects against other considerations such as societal benefits, employment and other economic opportunities.”
The premier, in his speech Friday, said government had to keep both economic and environmental protection in mind.
“In seeking to meet the dual policy mandates of protecting the environment and encouraging responsible development to provide employment opportunities for Caymanians through sustainable economic activity, the government must ensure that a proper balance is struck between these sometimes competing goals and objectives,” he added.