Attorney General Carl Bethel.
By RIEL MAJOR
Tribune Staff Reporter
THE package of environmental bills passed in the Senate yesterday will give the government the “legal right” to seek damages caused to the country’s eco-systems by historic pollution.
The statement came from Attorney General Carl Bethel during debate on the compendium of bills designed to strengthen the laws governing environmental management, protection, conservation and remediation. Mr Bethel referenced Carnival cruise line’s well publicised waste dumping in Bahamian waters.
Speaking about the Environmental Planning and Protection Bill, 2019, Mr Bethel said: “(This) bill places a ban on the commencement of any project unless the person has been issued a certificate of environmental clearance. The bill in part III makes provision for environmental management plans and for environmental impact assessments. The DEPP by Section 14 must prepare a national environmental policy framework.
“This bill specifically imposes a legal duty on every person to ‘maintain and protect the environment’. That applies to each and every person in The Bahamas. The bill (also) speaks to the protection of coral reefs, the ozone layer and wildlife which is not already protected by any other ordinance, inclusive of all flora and fauna.”
He added: “Importantly, the bill imposes civil liability for ‘historic pollution’. By Section 28 of the bill, even in respect of pollution which occurred in the past, the director of (the Department of Environmental Planning and Protection) may, by notice, require the polluter to rehabilitate the environment. If the person does not rehabilitate the damage, the DEPP may do so and sue in civil court to recover the debt thereby incurred. Members would have read of the US court’s findings against a well-known cruise shipping company in respect of garbage dumping and discharges of ‘treated sewerage’ in Bahamian waters. Well, the Bahamas now has the legal right to recover any damage caused to our eco-systems by these historic breaches.”
Earlier this year, The Tribune reported that Carnival illegally dumped hundreds of thousands of treated sewage in Bahamian waters along with more than 8,000 gallons of food waste. The information was contained in a report, which covers April 2017 to April 2018, prepared by a US court-appointed monitor.
In response to local outcry at the time, Mr Bethel said there would be an environmental protection law by the end of the summer, enabling The Bahamas to go after polluters.
Yesterday, Mr Bethel also spoke about the purpose of the other bills passed.
He said: “The Ministry of Environment Bill, 2019, establishes the Ministry of the Environment by statute. The minister will be made a corporation sole with the power to sue and be sued, and to operate and to hold any property transferred to him in trust for the queen in right of the government of The Bahamas.
“The minister will have power to establish an Environmental Administration Fund into which, amongst other things, future developers will have to pay a bond. This bond will be liable to be forfeited by way of fine or penalty should the developer commit any breach of an environmental law.”
Mr Bethel continued: “Additionally, the minister will have powers under the new laws to impose fines and penalties for breaches of environmental laws which will also be paid into the fund. The bill also makes provision for the creation of an Environmental Trust Fund.”
Mr Bethel said these bills will allow offenders to be persecuted for crimes against the environment. Adding, that offenders can face penalties to up to $30m and 10 years in prison.
The smaller bills are the Environmental Protection Control of Plastic Pollution Bill, 2019, The Bahamas Protected Areas Fund Amendment Bill, 2019, The Bahamas National Trust Amendment Bill 2019 and the Tariff Amendment Bill 2019.
During his contribution yesterday, opposition Senator Dr Michael Darville expressed his support of the passed bills.