Anti-smelter sings, Otaheite village, TrinidadFrom the Inter Press Service comes news that the new government in Trinidad has put the brakes on a proposal to construct an aluminium smelting plant in the south-west of the island:

The new government of Trinidad and Tobago wasted little time. In fact, Finance Minister Winston Dookeran took less than 30 seconds of a two-hour budget presentation to announce that the People’s Partnership government, headed by the country’s first female prime minister, Kamla Persad Bissessar, was scrapping the $66.6 million dollar smelter plant project involving investors from China and Brazil.

“In addition to the health and environmental risk, there is also serious concern as to Alutrint’s viability and the optimal use of our gas. This project shall cease and an alternative strategy will be put into place for the southwest peninsula,” Dookeran said.

The proposed 125,000 metric-tonnes-per-year aluminum smelter complex had been fiercely defended by the Patrick Manning government until it was swept out of power in May. It would have resulted in the Brazilian conglomerate Votorantim Group having a 40 percent stake while the Trinidad and Tobago government held the remaining 60 percent.

China’s Exim Bank was providing the $66.6 million dollar credit facility for construction of the project, which was halted last year after the High Court ruled that the decision of the Environmental Management Authority (EMA) to grant a Certificate of Environmental Clearance was illegal. The Manning government appealed and a ruling was expected soon. But the government’s new position has now made the ruling academic.

Energy Minister Carol Seepersad-Bachan said that plants to manufacture inorganic chemicals, glass, alternative energy- industry plastics and agro-business products were likely to take the place of the smelter plant, which environmentalists said would have been highly toxic and would have affected the health of area residents.

“Despite what we have been told that the plant would have been a modern facility and safe, no one was saying how we were going to get rid of the waste generated,” environmentalist Dr. Wayne Kublalsingh told IPS.

“Because of Alutrint, residents of La Brea and environs would have to be tested for cancer every six months,” he added, referring to a 2008 medical monitoring plan by the Caribbean Health Research Council and the International Institute for Healthcare and Human Development.

Not everyone agrees. David Renwick, who was given a national award in 2008 for his coverage of energy issues in Trinidad and Tobago, said that “the fact is that aluminium smelting poses no threat these days either to health or the environment – as real experts from countries that have produced aluminium for decades have repeatedly testified.”

Seepersad-Bachan says there are already prospective candidates for the plastics project and an integrated complex for a world-scale manufacture of glass and photovoltaic cells to replace the smelter project.

She said the plastics project would require an investment of $2 billion and the integrated glass and photovoltaic cells project, which requires the importation of silica from neighbouring Guyana, would require a capital investment of $2.5 billion.

“The alternative energy industry is a growing industry. It is close to $100 billion now and it is expected that the cost of solar panel will be able — in three years — to meet the cost of conventional energy supplies,” Seepersad-Bachan said, adding that there would be a “big market” for those products and would also create “significant employment” for local citizens.

Read the full story at IPS News. Also of interest, coverage of the decision in the Trinidad media, including articles describing local support for the project (see also here and here) and discussion of possible alternatives to the smelter project.

Previously on Green Antilles: Final decision due on Trinidad smelter.

[Photo: Taran Rampersad]

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