Prior to Guyana officially becoming an oil producing nation on December 20, 2019, Head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Dr. Vincent Adams had put arrangements in place for a special unit that would be dedicated to overseeing all issues pertaining to the oil sector. But from last year to now, the Director has been struggling to fill the new arm of the agency with competent individuals. The electoral fiasco is partly responsible for this says the EPA Head.
Dr. Adams said that without a budget, he does not have the funds he needs to aggressively pursue 36 highly skilled personnel.
The official said, “We have not been able to start filling the slot. We have three people there but they don’t have the relevant background. We don’t have a budget and we had put together one for over one billion dollars…Hopefully we can get the ball rolling as soon as we get the budget.”
Apart from the struggle to staff the Petroleum Unit, Dr. Adams said that he and his team are still working on revising the outdated Environmental Protection Act which dates back to 1996. The EPA head said that the current law only gives the EPA broad coverage in protecting the environment but with the emergence of a new sector, greater detail is needed. In this regard, he said that the penalties for spills and other oil related environmental infractions need to be more than $1M. “That’s just a slap on the wrist,” the official stated.
Apart from the inadequate penalties, he said that the 1996 Act does not give EPA officials the power of seizures for radioactive materials that may enter the country and are stored improperly. He also pointed out that the law is silent on how the EPA should treat with companies that mishandle hazardous oil waste.
Regardless of which government is in place, Dr. Adams said that the foregoing are issues the EPA needs urgent help with. He also wants the EPA to be conferred with more powers to determine its financial future and to be given more clout as opposed to having it under a ministry.
Dr. Adams said, “I believe that it is in the best interest of the country to ensure the EPA has the kind of clout, the kind of independence to ensure a booming economy does not bring destruction to the health of this country. There are enough examples around the world for us to understand why the EPA has to be an integral to the machinery running an oil producing state.”