Environmental, health concerns dog regional mining, energy projects

Friday June 23 2017

Lamu residents in a protest march in February

Lamu residents in a protest march in February 2017 over the planned coal plant project in the area. PHOTO FILE | NATION 

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Environmental concerns continue to dog regional power and mining projects, putting the brakes on the multibillion-dollar investments.

Recent investments in ventures such as coal and cement have been met with controversies as local communities and activists urge caution over their environmental impact.

In Kenya for example, environmental activists and the local community moved to court to stop a $2 billion coal power plant project in Lamu, southern Kenya, the first of its kind in the region.

In February, the Energy Regulatory Commission (ERC) approved the construction of the plant in Lamu after rejecting objections to the project by the Save Lamu Coalition.

Amu Power Company Ltd, a consortium of Gulf Energy and Centum Investments was cleared to get a power generation licence that had been withheld since 2016.

The ERC approved the project arguing that all the environmental, technical and economic issues raised by Save Lamu had been addressed.

Through the coalition, composed of 35 local groups, the residents have now vowed to oppose the move by the National Environmental Management Authority (Nema) to grant the plant a clean environmental bill of health. The rights groups have also asked the ERC not to approve the controversial project.

They have filed a notice of appeal with the National Environmental Tribunal contesting the granting of the environmental impact assessment licence.

“The coal plant threatens the marine ecosystem and the livelihoods of our people. We won’t accept it. We’re not anti-development, but no one in the world has ventured into coal mining and faced no long-term consequences. Coal is dirty energy, and its effects are detrimental,” Save Lamu Coalition chairman Mohamed Abubakar said.

He added that the ERC and Nema bear the blame for approving a project that is harmful to both human health and the environment.

“We submitted our objections and they promised to engage us in talks to see whether an alternative environmentally friendly energy-generating plant can be established in Lamu. We are shocked that our objections were trashed and they went ahead to approve the project. We will head to court and fight until justice prevails,” said Mr Abubakar.

The coal plant, which will be partly financed by China and Kenya, is expected to add 1050 MW to the grid. If approved, Power Construction Corporation of China will build it.

“This project in itself is a threat to Lamu’s delicate marine environment, and will harm our fishing and tourism sectors. We’ve seen many governments in Europe turning away from coal because of its environmental destruction, yet it is being sold to us here as the saviour to our electricity generation shortfalls,” said a member of Save Lamu Coalition, Walid Ahmed.

Positive effect

But an advisor at the Ministry of Energy and Petroleum Richard Muiru said the coal project was a “ shot in the arm” for Kenya’s energy needs as the country continues to develop renewable sources.

“We have seen the slow uptake in the exploitation of the wind and geothermal resources, so coal will give us some breathing space,” Mr Muiru said.
In Kenya, mineral rights holders under the environmental laws and the Mining Act are required to conduct environmental impact assessments and receive a licence under section 176 (2). The same has to be accompanied by a social heritage assessment and the environmental management plan which should be approved.

The Environmental Management and Co-ordination Act (EMCA) 1999 and its subsidiary, the Environmental Impact Assessment and Audit Regulations (EIAAR) 2003, prescribe procedures for environmental regulation.

“EMCA spells out the requirements for environmental impact assessment for industrial activity including mining activity. It confers the responsibility to NEMA for environmental impact assessment planning and implementation as well as environmental audit and monitoring,” an advocate and consultant at Nairobi’s Strathmore Extractives Industry Centre Edwin Njoroge said.

Environmental concerns

Tanzania has also had environmental concerns over its uranium mining, with analysts and activists calling for caution over its safety at the Selous Game Reserve.

The researchers argue that the uranium mining leads to serious land destruction and that there is the danger of releasing toxic compounds to the environment with grave risks to human health.

“The radiation contamination poses danger to ecosystems and biodiversity of the area with possible impact on the genetic resources. No safe method exists to avoid contamination of surface and ground water during uranium mining. It remains unclear whether the wind will spread radioactive dust into the reserve and contaminate wide areas,” said Roy Namgera, a geologist.