Lauren Ice

We have so much to look back on in 2010 that it is hard to know where to start in compiling a year-end review of the work that ELAW and its partners have accomplished.  So, I challenged ELAW staff to each pick one personal highlight from the past year to share with our blog readers.  Through these “staff picks” you can join us in celebrating some notable victories, learn a little about the behind-the-scenes at ELAW, and share in a few of the many moments that make ELAW so unique among environmental organizations.

Our partners face daunting challenges in their day-to-day work of helping communities speak out for clean air, clean water, and a healthy planet.  When constantly faced with corrupt governments, mining companies more concerned about finding the next ounce of gold than about the irreparable impacts to the surrounding community’s water supplies, and concerns about the real impacts of climate change, it is helpful to step back and remember that working together, we’re making a difference.

Everyone complained about having to choose just one favorite moment to share, but after much arm-twisting, I am happy to bring these stories to you.  As 2010 comes to a close, we celebrate our partners’ many brave and amazing accomplishments – and a special shout out to the newest addition to ELAW’s growing list of Goldman Prize winners – Thuli Brilliance Makama of Swaziland in southern Africa!

We couldn’t fit all of our picks into this week’s post. Check back next week for round two!

From everyone at ELAW, we wish you and yours another wonderful year! We will work hard to ensure that 2011 is filled with many more victories for the earth.

All the best in 2011,

Mark, Staff Scientist
India: Environmental Tribunal Halts Lafarge Project Plans

Manali Wildlife Sanctuary, Himachal Pradesh, India PHOTO: Paul Evans

In late August of this year, the National Environment Appellate Authority (NEAA) canceled permission that the Ministry of the Environment had granted earlier to Lafarge, one of the world’s largest cement companies. In June 2009, Lafarge received environmental clearance it needed to begin work to mine for limestone and construct a cement factory in an ecologically-sensitive area of the Himalayan State Himachal Pradesh.

The order came after members of the NEAA visited the proposed project site and heard from hundreds of local people who opposed the project. The order states: “Both the EAC and the Ministry have not correctly assessed the impact of the project on land, water and air and failed to appreciate its effects on the livelihood of the people of the area.”

I reviewed the EIA and prepared a report with my conclusions. We found flaws in the EIA for the proposed plant, including a lack on any assessment of the ecological impacts of destroying hundreds of hectares of natural forest. The NEAA acknowledged in its order that the EIA was deficient.

Michele, Donor Liaison
South Africa: Stricter Air Pollution Standards and a Ban on a Toxic Pesticide

Angela Andrews at the Legal Resources Center in Johannesburg announced two big victories for South Africa in 2010!

In March, the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism issued a comprehensive set of final industrial air pollutant emission standards, a first for the African continent. We provided Angela with examples of how legislation in the United States and elsewhere provides for strict ambient air quality standards and requires industrial polluters to achieve emission standards based on the “best available technology.” There are now strict air quality standards in South Africa and polluters are required to install the best pollution control technology for controlling emissions.

In May, South Africa prohibited the use of chlorpyrifos, a neurotoxic pesticide, for household, home garden and domestic uses. Better known as Dursban, this chemical has been linked to neurodevelopment disorders in children, affecting their long-term cognitive and motor abilities. We helped Angela use scientific evidence to link this chemical to health problems and show that other countries have effective regulatory systems in place.  This victory not only improves the health of those in South Africa, it creates an important precedent for protecting citizens from toxic pesticides that can be used in communities all around the world.

Jen, Staff Attorney
Insular Caribbean:  Building Connections Among Environmental Advocates

Euren Cuevas Medina of Dominican Republic (left) and Jean Andre Victor of Haiti

One of the best moments of 2010 for me was when Euren Cuevas Medina of INSAPROMA (in the Dominican Republic) skyped me to say that he was writing to Jean Andre Victor of AHDEN (in Haiti) to see how he was doing after some violence broke out in Port au Prince following recent elections.  I loved that moment because just a few weeks before, these two lawyers who live on the same island but speak different languages, didn’t even know each other.  They met each other at ELAW’s recent Annual Meeting in Costa Rica.

Helping to make these connections is one of the reasons I love to come to work every day.  These two are now likely to collaborate on issues that will benefit communities in both of their countries for years to come.  In fact, Jean Andre just invited Euren to participate in an environmental law workshop that AHDEN and ELAW will hold together in February.  The workshop is part of a larger effort that ELAW is coordinating with regional environmental organizations to protect the environment in the Insular Caribbean.

Photograph of the entrance to the Harbour View plant taken in March 2009 before the lawsuit (left) and in October 2010 after the lawsuit.

Our friends at Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) are also a critical part of this effort, and have been very active in enforcing Jamaica’s environmental and public participation laws.  Of their many accomplishments over the years, JET recently helped the residents of Harbour View (St. Andrew, Jamaica) to convince the government to fix a sewage treatment plant that has been broken for thirty years.

Lauren, Office Manager
Bangladesh: Supreme Court Reiterates – No Toxic Ships

My memorable moment of 2010 came when I heard Rizwana Hasan, Executive Director of the Bangladesh Environmental Lawyers Association (BELA) speak at the PIELC at the University of Oregon School of Law last year. I was moved by the passion with which she spoke about rogue ship breaking in her home country. Too often, the dangerous process of dismantling obsolete ships is sent to poorer nations, where workers’ safety and environmental protection are ignored. After over five years of legal struggle, BELA won a victory in 2009 that stated:

• Uncertified ship-breaking operations must close within two weeks;
• Ship-breaking operations must obtain environmental certification before operating in Bangladesh;
• Ships must be cleaned of all hazardous materials before entering the country; and
• Ship-breaking operations must guarantee safe working conditions for workers and environmentally-sound disposal plans for wastes.

Since BELA’s victory last year, ship breaking companies have been looking for ways to bypass the law and appeal the previous rulings. But earlier this month, we heard more news from Bangladesh – the High Court of Bangladesh issued an official order to stop the issuance of new ‘no objection certificates’ (NOCs) for all future incoming ships. The Court also instructed the government to form an expert committee to determine whether a ship arriving for scrap has been cleaned of hazardous materials.

This recent news makes it clear that BELA and Rizwana are holding the courts and the industry accountable to the rulings, and continuing to fight for improved working conditions and environmental protection in Bangladesh.

Remember to check back next week for more of our favorite moments from 2010!