31 March is the deadline for the public to comment on Minister of Mineral Resources and Energy Gwede Mantashe’s proposed Gas to Power Powership projects at South African ports in Richard’s Bay KwaZulu-Natal, Ngqura Eastern Cape and Saldanha Bay Western Cape. In its submissions, The Green Connection highlights a number of deficiencies in the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), where key impacts have not been considered or factored in. According to the social and environmental justice organisation, this could be devastating for the country’s affected small-scale subsistence fishing communities, whose livelihoods were already dealt a crushing blow when their fishing and other rights were compromised during the pandemic lockdown.
The Green Connection’s Strategic Lead Liziwe McDaid says that while it is important that South Africa urgently resolves its electricity problems – which, as a result of mismanagement and corruption, has led to persistent load shedding, on top of persistent electricity tariff increases – it is important that government makes its decisions based on good, thorough data. She encourages South Africans to submit their own comments since the country’s choices should always be in the best interest of the people, the environment, and then the economy.
McDaid says, “Upon inspecting the EIA report with our legal team, we believe that these proposed projects should not be considered nor endorsed. There is too much missing data. Too many negative impacts for South Africans and the environment that have been brushed over and not given the scrutiny it needs to make informed decisions. It is almost as though the government does not want to know the full impact of its projects, so that they can go ahead with a ‘clean’ conscience. However, by our assessment, these Karpowerships are not worth the risk, especially not at the expense of our coastal communities.”
“With the reality of climate change, it is concerning that Minister Mantashe has elected to lock us into another twenty years of fossil fuels and has selected these foreign Karpowership companies as preferred bidders for the Risk Mitigation Independent Power Producer Procurement Programme (RMIPPPP), rather than investing in more renewable energy projects with real local economic benefits,” she says.
“Projects which affect communities – in this case, small-scale subsistence fisherwomen and men living on these coastlines – should not be decided during a time like CoVid, when those who will be affected cannot be involved in meaningful public participation processes. Sadly, this seems to be the most trivialised part of the EIA process and meaningful public participation never seems to be the goal of those pushing these projects, even though those affected are often the ones with the most to lose,” says McDaid.
The law, stipulated in the National Environmental Management Act (NEMA), says that it is not sufficient to just inform people, but that public participation must be promoted. Government and the oil and gas companies pushing these projects have a duty to ensure that all affected communities are involved in the decision-making process. However, even though fundamental to the decision to go ahead or not, community voices are not amplified in the report. “In our rush to address the country’s energy issues, we should not sacrifice the human rights of its citizens,” adds McDaid.
According to community leader and activist Zukisa Mankabane from Port Elizabeth, Nelson Mandela Bay, “We only heard about the Karpowership plans for Coega a short while ago, and we are gravely concerned about the impact it will have on the environment, marine life and also for communities. We are not satisfied with this proposed project. It will destroy our areas and the ocean we, as fishing communities, rely on.”
A member of the Eastern Cape Environment Network (ECEN) Mankabane says, “But, before I even start on impact, I want to start by highlighting how this project was introduced to us, the injustice of this process. It has been introduced in a wrong way. During this period of CoVid restrictions, the government themselves acknowledge that we are living in a new normal. So how come they continue to introduce new projects, like normal, when those affected are restricted from participation? They have reduced this process to a mere box-ticking exercise, not really meaning to understand how their proposals will affect us.”
He adds, “On top of that, all the requirements that should be adhered, have not been done. Remember, we are small-scale fishers who have been suffering a lot under the CoVid restrictions, and since many of us cannot afford data or computer equipment, this means that we cannot participate in the decision-making process. Also, the environmental consultants did not adequately advertise meetings about having these Karpowership here. We are very dissatisfied that while we are trying to make a living for ourselves and improve our lives, our government is prepared to put our ocean at risk.”
In assessing the alternatives, the Green Connection believes that the EIA process should have considered other means of producing the energy that is needed. She says, “It is troubling that no energy alternatives were provided. One of the most likely outcomes of the no-go option would be that the demand for energy would be taken up by the development of renewable energy sources such as wind, geothermal energy or solar energy which have a much-reduced impact on climate change.”
McDaid ads that the EIA indicates that no wastewater, from cooling the generators, will be discharged into the ocean but it is not clear what will happen to all that hot water? The failure to properly consider pollution into the marine environment as well as failing to properly consider the risk of a worst-case scenario, such as a gas explosion from a ruptured pipeline, are some examples of why the Green Connection believes that the EIA report is significantly flawed.
“Comments can be submitted into the EIA process until 31 March. Various concerns about the karpowerships have been raised in the media, and people have been outraged. But mumbling into your sleeves will not influence decision-makers. This is why the Green Connection calls on those concerned to raise up your voices and submit comments. If you are against unsustainable development, it is important that you make an official objection. By doing this, we can make a difference,” concludes McDaid.