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ELAW is pleased to announce that we have created a new electronic resource for advocates working to enforce, protect, and defend environmental impact assessment (EIA) laws!

Environmental impact assessment is an important tool for evaluating and disclosing the anticipated environmental effects of proposed projects, such as hydroelectric dams, mining, or oil and gas drilling.  EIA laws promote transparency and public participation, by providing opportunities for members of the public to learn about projects that may affect their communities and to express their support or concerns to decisionmakers.  A vast majority of countries have laws requiring EIA.  These laws are, at times, poorly implemented.  Elsewhere, EIA laws have come under legislative attack in countries where powerful private interests are exerting pressure on government officials to fast-track unsustainable and destructive development projects without public input.  In the last six months alone ELAW’s legal team has helped partners in Cambodia, Mongolia, Jamaica, Panama, and Pakistan with efforts to strengthen and improve the EIA process in those countries.  ELAW’s science team has reviewed and critiqued scores of EIA documents, deciphering complex proposals and uncovering critical flaws.

ELAW’s new resource, called “ELM” (EIA Law Matrix), provides access to EIA laws and regulations from countries around the world.  Over ELAW’s 20-year history, we have fielded many questions about EIA and have assisted partners seeking to defend EIA laws.  Our goal in creating ELM was to develop a tool that will help our partners answer questions, see global and regional EIA trends, and identify laws that contain model language.

Building ELM has been a collective effort on the part of ELAW’s partners who have contributed information from their home countries, law student interns, and our information technology team.  The database is steadily growing and we are on track to include laws from 50 countries by the end of 2012.  We thank everyone who has helped us launch this groundbreaking resource!

Liz Mitchell
ELAW Staff Attorney

Our partners at the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET) achieved an important victory for Jamaicans and the environment.  JET challenged the government’s construction of a new road on the Palisadoes tombolo, a narrow spit fringed with mangroves, sand dunes, and rare, native plant species.  It is also a sea turtle nesting beach.  Palisadoes connects Kingston and the mainland to the Norman Manley International Airport and the historic town of Port Royal. The strip forms part of the Palisadoes-Port Royal Protected Area and has been declared a Wetland of International Importance by the Ramsar Convention.

A section of the Palisadoes strip that was cleared by bulldozers in September 2010 to make way for the new highway.

JET argued that the government had not provided sufficient information about the project and had not adequately consulted the public.  JET explains that “[t]he court ruled that [the government] breached the legal standard for consultation and breached the legitimate expectation that all environmental information relative to the development of Palisadoes would be disclosed to the public and the applicant before approval was granted.”

Unfortunately, despite ruling that the government’s actions did not meet the legal standard for public participation, the damage was already done and the court allowed the permits to stand. Therefore, construction of the roadway, boardwalk and seawalls will continue.

Although the impacts to the environment in this particular project will not be stopped, this is a very important legal victory – and should help stop future ill-conceived projects from going forward.  Improving public participation in decisions that impact the environment is critical for achieving sustainable development.

Congratulations JET!

Jen Gleason
Staff Attorney

Last June, ELAW helped partners at the Belize Institute of Environmental Law and Policy (BELPO) publish a guide  to help citizens in Belize participate actively and effectively  in  decision-making processes that impact the local environment.  In other words, if a concerned citizen sees a fancy new beach resort under development, and is curious about what impacts the project will have on the area, the Guide tells them where to start and how to get the information they need. Or if a citizen notices illegal activity, such as the destruction of a mangrove forest or the dredging of a protected lagoon, the Guide gives them agency contacts for reporting illegal activites and tips for holding government agencies accountable for enforcing the law.

The Guide focuses on three laws in Belize that were written to give the public a stronger voice in policy: the Freedom of Information Act, the Ombudsman Act, and the Environmental Protection Act. The Guide also provides sample text for letters, complaints, and press releases.

A main goal of the Guide’s author, long-time ELAW partner and BELPO President Candy Gonzalez, was to design a guide that is accessible to the majority of people in Belize. Candy said she pictured something that was “informative but not intimidating or condescending.” Plus, the Guide is free!

Talk about accessible to the public! You can pick up a Guide from BELPO’s office, or from Candy, or download it from the BELPO homepage.

Since its publication, the Guide has received positive reviews and Candy’s supply is running low – a clear indication of the demand that exists in Belize for this simple, yet effective tool. BELPO worked hard to make this valuable information accessible to the public and decided the only thing left was to have the Guide translated into Spanish.  The Spanish version will soon be printed, as will a second run of the English version.

Congratulations to everyone at BELPO. There is something so satisfying about seeing the product of your hard work being used and achieving tangible results! And congratulations to the citizens of Belize, who have embraced this new tool and shown the rest of of us that public participation is possible and it works!

Lauren Ice
ELAW Office Manager

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