BEST On Government Environmental Stance

June 7, 2024 | 4 Comments

[Updated] The Bermuda Environmental Sustainability Taskforce [BEST] says that “Government’s stance on the environment seems to be that it is more of a nuisance to be managed, rather than a precious resource to be stewarded.”

A spokesperson said, “Bermuda is at a crossroads when it comes to protecting our environment for our future generations. Overseas trips by Government Ministers where they promote Bermuda’s ‘environmental leadership’ contrast sharply with our current reality, where environmental protection policies are often sidelined for short-term economic gains.

“Government’s stance on the environment seems to be that it is more of a nuisance to be managed, rather than a precious resource to be stewarded. This short-sighted perspective is resulting in an increasing threat, especially to our most important natural resources. Previous governments were not better, but that is a poor excuse for failing now. The world has changed and Bermuda and Bermudians want our government to provide the needed environmental leadership.

“For six years now, we have been talking about restricting single-use plastics and still Bermuda doesn’t have legislation to make this happen This is particularly shameful given that many countries around the world, including islands in the Caribbean, introduced such legislation years ago. The Beyond Plastic Bermuda campaign has been working in the community for almost three years to support the Government’s promised ban, covering all related expenses for the campaign thanks to generous donations by local community champions, but there is no sign of actual Government support.

“There isn’t even mandatory recycling in Bermuda for aluminum and tin. There is little or no recycling in Government offices and no recycling in our national parks. We lag behind most of the developed world that introduced effective recycling decades ago. At a minimum, we want our government to lead by example.

“In July 2021, just two months after we were shown the design plans for a Special Development Order [SDO] application for the Fairmont Southampton, a change to the legislation surrounding the process for approving SDOs was proposed by the Minister for Home Affairs and the Environment, the Honourable Walter Roban, giving him the right to singlehandedly approve any SDO without having it debated in the House.

“Of note, it was in 2011 when the same Minister [Roban] argued the importance for having an SDO debated in the House; the complete opposite position! Interestingly, and coincidentally, this was the same time as the Tucker’s Point SDO. This is another example of the guard rails, originally put in place to protect our environment, being systematically removed. The Minister went on to approve that SDO, against the recommendations of the local experts in the Planning Department and on the Development Applications Board [DAB].

“There have been no improvements to our fisheries protections, despite years of talking about the deficiencies. It is common knowledge that the Department is under-resourced and yet we are being told that they will be tasked with the management of additional legislation and oversight responsibilities if, or when, the much-discussed Bermuda Ocean Prosperity Programme [BOPP] is adopted.

“With respect to planning applications for development, Ministerial discretion seems to have hit an all-time high, where the current Minister is using veto power to overturn decisions made by the Development Application Board [DAB], such that decisions that are underpinned by the policies of the island’s Bermuda Plan are under threat like never before.

“Recommendations by the Department of Planning and the subsequent decisions by the DAB play a critical role in safeguarding Bermuda’s environment, since those decisions are based on careful assessments that balance development needs with environmental preservation. By our count, nine applications which were refused by the DAB have been appealed in the past twelve months. Two of those are pending, but seven have been approved by the Minister on appeal. Overriding these decisions signals a preference for short-term economic gains over long-term sustainability.

“It now seems to be common knowledge that having Planning or the DAB refuse one’s development application is not a need for concern. Appeals to the Minister appear to, almost certainly, result in his granting permission, regardless of local [or foreign] expert recommendations, though it should be noted that the responsibility for the Department of Planning was shuffled off to a new Ministry in late 2023.

“One positive environmental action that the Government can be praised for is the installation of solar panels on Government buildings and while moving forward with electric buses and cars may be seen as a positive, the country still relies heavily on fossil fuels for the electricity that powers them. However, where will the electric vehicle batteries be disposed of when they reach their end of life? Will they end up being added to the unsightly and ecologically concerning dump by the airport that greets our visitors?

“Make no mistake about it, the above is not a full account of our concerns but suffice to say that the undermining of local environmental protections will not serve this country and will result in long-term, negative and possibly irreversible economic, environmental and social consequences for us all. Yes, we need to stimulate the economy, but not in ways that threaten the environment and cost us more in the long-term.

“It’s time for our government to evidence its stated commitment to our natural environment by upholding and even strengthening the policies and practices so that our future generations will inherit a sustainable Bermuda. It’s the least that they deserve. We need to see tangible progress. We require more than sound bites and platitudes from our government.”

Update 8.27pm: A Government spokesperson said, “The concerns raised by BEST despite their aggressive political stance are ones that the Government takes extremely seriously.

“BEST’s arguments simply do not agree with the facts. Under this Government we have sought to take a balanced approach between preserving our natural resources and overall environment, while ensuring that development projects that benefit Bermudians through jobs and opportunities are executed responsibly.

“We do not agree with the view that sustainable development means there should be no development. Especially if it can impact positively on the lives of Bermudians seeking jobs and looking to make ends meet.

“Despite BEST’s claims, this Government has been pioneering on climate action and introduced the Bermuda Plan to protect and conserve areas, species and natural features of significance.

“On an added and important note, as outlined in the Government’s Economic Development Strategy 2023-2027 [page: 38 – 39]:

“Investment of capital is critical to growing Bermuda’s economic assets. Attracting investment across multiple sectors creates a more diverse economy which in turn increases economic resilience and employment opportunities. The aim is to create an environment whereby Bermuda is more competitive and attractive for investment. There is a need to attract external investors and enable continued investment by those businesses which are already working on or with local land, buildings, commercial enterprises, people and technologies…. As the world is rapidly evolving and the use of new technologies become mainstream the island’s infrastructure must evolve as well.

“Government recognizes the crucial role that the Department of Planning plays in facilitating and supporting new investment and as such has worked these past years to streamline procedures that have resulted in a more efficient, yet responsible decision-making process.

“We are committed to ensuring that Bermuda’s environmental concerns are a priority as we also seek to create new jobs and opportunities for Bermudians. We believe this balanced approach is not only what Bermudians want, it’s what Bermuda needs.

“Protecting our Environment and looking out for the best interests of Bermudian workers and entrepreneurs will need all of us working together, especially when we disagree. That’s why we will continue to engage with stakeholders in the community like BEST so that we are able to address and alleviate their concern while seeking the best path forward for all.”

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  1. watching says:

    Everyone knows that these environmental groups are political in nature and with an election looking will look to highlight anything negative they deem to with the hope of swaying the public.
    When they speak to short term economic benefit, how can they speak to this? The building of a resort or development, which can provide jobs and contribute to the economy for decades if not more, is not exactly short term. Perhaps to the members of these organizations it’s not important, but to others it may be.

    • Hilarious! says:

      In all fairness, environmental groups always make a lot of noise before elections with the backroom claim of delivering votes to whatever party makes the most environmental promises. BEST is no different. Wait for Greenrock to come out with its demands. Greenrock has been less vocal lately for some reason. Perhaps Greenrock is working on a better strategy and better messaging to sell super-expensive wind farm electricity to the public. Rebranding is needed.

    • Question says:

      If your point is that the current government doesn’t care about Bermuda’s environment, then I agree with you.

  2. Hilarious! says:

    Oh no! Not “at the crossroads!” According to the hit and 15 season TV series Supernatural, the Crossroads Demon is summoned at crossroads. So be careful what you wish for. 10 years of living it up and then the hounds come for you and drag you to that fire and brimstone place.

    Perhaps BEST should form a new political party and get the PLP voted out. Right now, the spokesperson comes off like a petulant child throwing a temper tantrum.

    If BEST supports electric cars and buses, BEST must also support underage children mining rare earths in Africa. Rare earths are used in EV batteries, like in Government EVs and our 70 electric buses. Think of those children in Africa who are so happy to have jobs working under conditions that no one from BEST who supports “going green” wants to think about. Kids, we salute you! Dig, baby, dig.

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