A compendium of environmental bills debated in the House of Assembly yesterday would see environmental offenders face penalties of up to $30 million and 10 years in prison, Minister of Environment and Housing Romauld Ferreira said.
The bills included the Ministry Of Environment Bill, 2019; The Environmental Planning And Protection Bill, 2019; the Environmental Protection (Control of Plastic Pollution) Bill, 2019; The Bahamas National Trust Bill, 2019; The Bahamas Protected Areas Fund Bill, 2019 and the Tariff Amendment Bill 2019.
“These bills comprehensively address the need for a positive framework for interaction with the environment,” Ferreira said.
“They create opportunities for employment and entrepreneurship. They provide accountability [and] transparency where there was none.”
The Environmental Planning and Protection Bill, 2019 would establish an integrated environmental management system and provide a legal framework for the protection and conservation on the environment, Ferreira said as he led off debate.
The bill speaks to a number of infractions, including spills of oil and hazardous materials into the environment.
Ferreira said the legislation “responds to the vacuum of environmental legislation in The Bahamas” and “brings clarity to the years of ambiguity as it relates to the enforcement of environmental laws”.
It would establish a Department of Environmental Planning and Protection, which could develop and implement policies, programs and plans to manage and conserve the environment. In particular, Ferreira pointed to the bill’s ability to provide more transparency in the environmental impact assessment (EIA) process for developers.
The bill also speaks to the protection of coral reefs, the government’s ability to restrict or prohibit indefinitely the hunting, fishing and the removal of any plant or animal. It also provides guidelines and penalties in relation to the spillage of hazardous substances into the environment.
“In the event of an accidental discharge, recovery measures are put in place under this bill that will restore the environment as close to its pre-existing state and penalizes offenders commensurate with the environmental infraction,” Ferreira said.
“Accompanying this robust piece of legislation is a series of fines and penalties that can be levied on environmental offenders, where the fine or penalty is directly proportional to the environmental infraction.
“These fines range from $5,000 for individuals on summary charges to $30 million or jail time for indictable charges [o]r up to three times the assessed value of the damage caused, whichever is greater, or a term of imprisonment not exceeding 10 years or both.”
The bills were passed in the House of Assembly last night. It received the full support of all members who were present.
The Ministry of Environment Bill, 2019 would establish the Ministry of the Environment as a statutory entity, which would be responsible for two new funds – an environmental administration fund and an environmental trust fund.
Fines and levies would be deposited into the environmental administration fund and used to restore and enhance the environment. The environmental trust fund would receive grants and donations from donor agencies.
“Through the use of both funds, The Bahamas will now have access to a broader range of funding opportunities to fulfill our national and international obligations and agreements, conduct project activities, establish environmental programs and acquire consultancy services as needed,” Ferreira said.
The Environmental Protection (Control of Plastic Pollution) Bill, 2019 will allow for the government to implement a ban on single-use plastics in January.
While the opposition was supportive of the bills, Progressive Liberal Party (PLP) Deputy Leader Chester Cooper called for the government to do more to ensure the protection of the environment.
He also criticized the government for being too reactive. Pointing to the revelation this year that Carnival Cruise Lines ships dumped plastic waste and blackwater in Bahamian waters, as well as an oil spill at an Equinor oil storage facility in East Grand Bahama, Cooper noted that it would have been advantageous to have had these laws in place beforehand.
Cooper noted that the implementation of the plastic ban in January 2020 may be too soon given the level of public education necessary.