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Environmental Approval Printable Version

Environmental approval is a necessary prerequisite for any major industrial or developmental activity. This approval takes the form of a Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC) issued by the Environmental Management Authority. Obtaining a CEC within a reasonable time frame can be an uncertain and a major hurdle for developmental activity.  Unfamiliarity with the procedure also results in the process becoming inordinately delayed.


In this chapter, Gregory Pantin, Partner in Hamel-Smith’s Dispute & Risk Management Practice Group and Keomi Lourenço, Associate in the Banking & Finance Practice Group provide the overview of the process for obtaining a CEC.

The legal and institutional framework

The Environmental Management Authority (“EMA”) and the Environmental Commission (the “Commission”) were established under the Environmental Management Act Chapter 35:05 of the Laws of Trinidad & Tobago (the “EMA Act”).  The EMA is the body responsible for managing, regulating and coordinating matters related to the environment.  The environment includes all land, area beneath the land surface, atmosphere, climate, surface water, groundwater, sea, marine and coastal areas, seabed, wetlands, and natural resources within the jurisdiction of Trinidad and Tobago.


One of the major regulatory instruments used by EMA is the granting of a Certificate of Environmental Clearance (CEC). A CEC is required prior to embarking upon certain activities as may be designated from time to time by the Minister with the responsibility for the environment, currently the Minister of Planning, Housing and the Environment. Activities for which a CEC may be required include conduct relating to:

·       Poultry and Animal Husbandry Production

·       Establishment of a Facility for Game Propogation

·       Establishment of a Facility for Mariculture/Aquaculture

·       Horticultural Farming

·       Timber Cultivation or Extraction of Logs

·       Establishment of a fruit or vegetable farm

·       Generation of Electricity

·       Clearing excavation, grading and land filling

·       water proofing/caulking/paving

·       Establishment of Institutional Facilities

·       Establishment of Hotels, Guesthouses

·       Land Reclamation

·       Coastal or Offshore Construction or Modification and Dredging Activities

·       Manufacture or processing of Foods, Foods Products and Condiments

·       Establishment of Facility for Granaries and Grain Mills

·       Establishment of a Facility for Sugar

·       Establishment of a facility for alcoholic beverages, wines and spirits

·       Establishment of a Facility for Materials Used in Construction

·       Establishment of Facility for Petroleum products, Petrochemicals or Petrochemical Products

·      Manufacture of Goods and Products other than Petroleum Products, Petrochemicals or Petrochemical products

·       Establishment of Facility for Production or refining or Metals or their related products.


Where an applicant for a CEC is dissatisfied with the decision of the EMA, he can appeal to the Commission.  The Commission has specific powers under the Act as well as all the powers inherent in a superior court of record. 


Procedure for obtaining environmental clearance


Applications for CECs are usually made directly to the EMA.  However, where the activity is one which requires permission under the Town and Country Planning Act, the application must be made through the Town and Country Planning Division (TCPD). The application should include detailed information on both technical and non-technical terms, in addition to maps and illustrations that clearly describe the proposed activity.  Applications are screened on both an administrative and technical level. The EMA ought to acknowledge receipt of a CEC application within ten (10) working days of receiving same.


Where an applicant applies for a CEC, the EMA may determine that a CEC is not required prior to embarking upon the proposed activity. In such a case, the EMA ought to communicate this determination along with its acknowledgement of the application. It must be noted that the EMA may request further information prior to making that determination.


Where it is determined that a CEC is required, then the timeframe for a determination of whether or not to grant the CEC primarily depends on the nature of the activity and whether it is of a type that the EMA considers that:

(a)     a CEC is required but an Environmental Impact Assessment (‘EIA’) is not; or

(b)     both a CEC and EIA are required.


Where a CEC is required but no EIA

If a CEC is required but an EIA is not, then the EMA has initially a further 30 working days from the EMA’s acknowledgment within which to notify an applicant of its decision. However, if further information is required by the EMA prior to making that determination and information is requested, the 30 working day timeframe restarts from the date the EMA receives the additional information.




If both a CEC and EIA are required for any of the activities, then the applicant is notified that an EIA is required in compliance with specific Terms of Reference.


The EMA then prepares Draft Terms of Reference (TOR) for the EIA and provides that draft to the applicant within 21 working days of notification by the EMA of the requirement for the EIA. The applicant must then engage in consultations as may be appropriate based on the draft TOR and make any representations for amendments to the draft TOR within 28 working days. At the end of that period, the EMA has a further 10 working days to issue the final TOR which will guide the EIA. 


After the EIA is submitted and has dealt with all the information requested in the TOR, it is submitted by the EMA for public comment, reviewed and the EMA has a further 80 working days after the submission of the EIA report.


A CEC is valid for a period of 3 years from its effective date and where it has expired, a new application will have to be made. An application for a new CEC will be required prior to the expiration of three years where the conditions upon which the CEC was granted have changed. 


Duration and Scope of the CEC

The CEC is granted for a particular activity and so where the activity has changed a new CEC application will have to be made.  It is imperative that the applicant comply with the terms and conditions of the CEC as well as any prescribed mitigation measures.  The activity must begin within three years of the date of the CEC as upon expiry of this period a new application will have to be made.  The CEC must also be placed in public view at the site of the activity for which it was issued.


An applicant has a right of appeal to the Environmental Commission to determinations of the EMA.


Environmental Liability

Damages for failure to comply with applicable environmental standards are capped at $10,000.00 for each violation, and in the case of a continuing violation $5,000.00 for each day that the violation is not remedied.  The intentional or reckless release of any pollutant or hazardous substance is a criminal offence which carries a penalty of $100,000 and imprisonment for two years.


In addition to the above power of imposing sanctions, the EMA has significant powers to halt activities and projects or prevent potential violations which may result in a violation of any environmental requirement and may even result in assessments for compensation by the Environmental Commission.


Avoiding the Uncertainty of Time

Procuring a CEC can become a protracted process whether or not the EMA requests an EIA.  If no EIA is required, inadequately presented applications may result in repeated requests for further information which will extend the timeframe for a determination since the 30 working day timeframe for a response is counted from the date of submission of a duly completed application.


Depending on the requirements of the TOR, the applicant will need to hire one or several environmental consultants.  The ability of the consultants to deliver an EIA within set timeframes and up to the EMA’s standards should be carefully considered in selecting an appropriate environmental consultant/firm. Failure by these environmental consultants to deliver the required information to the EMA can result in delays in acquiring approval since the EMA has 80 days from receipt of the complete EIA Report within which to respond.


Maximizing one’s ability to achieve a determination on a CEC application requires significant preparation and collaboration on the part of the applicant with the EMA. As far as possible, an application that is prepared in a problem solving manner and with co-operation with the EMA, may avoid an extended time loop of requests for information.


Other approval agencies

Obtaining a CEC does not mean that approval from other statutory authorities will automatically follow.  The EMA Act provides that no authority can issue a permit or approval for an activity for which a CEC is required prior to the grant of such CEC. However, this does not obviate the need for approval from other regulatory authorities for any given undertaking, as approval from the relevant agencies remains a necessary pre-requisite to start up of operations.

Investor Awareness

A lender, a bank or a financial institution that either directly provides financing to a borrower company in Trinidad and Tobago or invests in the commercial paper (bonds, notes and the like) that a Trinidad and Tobago company may issue, may wish to know whether the environmental infrastructure and standard in Trinidad and Tobago is comparable to international standards.


Generally, in addition to obtaining a CEC (as described above), there are provisions which require the issuing of permits with respect to water, air and noise pollution, the release and handling of hazardous substances and the release and treatment of waste disposal. The first point of concern for a foreign lender is that the local laws may not reflect the general international environmental standards, although there are standards such as contained in the Noise Pollutions Control Rules, Water Pollution Rules, Air Pollution rules (not yet in force), Waste Management Rules (not yet in force).


To the extent that a foreign lender’s internal policy may be to provide financing upon conditions which may include a borrower’s agreement to adhere to international environmental standards, this may be resisted since it may be a higher standard than what may strictly apply in Trinidad & Tobago. Bearing this in mind, to balance potentially two differing points of view, one may consider the hybrid of requiring the adherence to local standards and, if it is a new development, compliance with the terms of any CEC that may be granted. This may or may not be a deal breaker.


Environmental liability on your investment

As noted above, failure to adhere to an environmental requirement, which includes applying for the various permits and certificates and adhering to the conditions upon which such permits/ certificates are granted, carries substantial fines.


A lender may need to be aware that the doctrine of lender liability does not exist as a specifically identifiable legal doctrine in Trinidad and Tobago, and as such no legislation or local case law to date specifically treats with lender liability. It is important to note in this regard, that our legal system is based on an adoption of the English legal system and thus the common law in Trinidad and Tobago is influenced by the English common law where the doctrine of lender liability does in fact exist.


To that extent, it is possible that a foreign lender may find itself liable for a local borrowing company’s environmental liability where the lender acts as:

(i)             a lead bank in a syndicated loan facility;

(ii)           a shadow director of the borrower; or

(iii)          a financier of the polluter or the company in breach of the applicable environmental standards.


Environmental liability can be attached to the lender under the doctrine of “direct lender liability” where a lender becomes responsible for the environmental liabilities of its client.


The issue of “direct lender liability” may arise where a lender becomes an occupier of contaminated land through the exercise of its remedies against the borrower, for example, by becoming a mortgagee in possession or foreclosing its mortgage over the land.  It may also arise where the lender can be considered to be in a position where it exerts control over a borrower, for example, where it can be said that the lender has some control on the policy making (or finds himself in a position with powers akin to that of a director) or if the lender acts in a fiduciary capacity, including management involvement in the day-to-day operations of industrial or commercial facilities, which causes environmental harm, the lender may incur liability to clean up the contaminated land and to compensate 3rd parties for any loss suffered as result of the environmental harm.


The limits and standard of such liability can be gleaned from  the House of Lords decision in the Cambridge Water Company Ltd v Eastern Counties Leather Plc [1994] 1 All ER 53  which stated that liability in relation to historical activities is now less likely under common law principles. The House of Lords acknowledged that it would be unjust to impose retrospective liability for historical contamination at common law. However, where the damage is not historical and liability would not be retrospective, the ruling of the case affirmed that the courts will impose strict liability where reasonably foreseeable damage is caused.


Locally the EMA Act, provides at section 71:

Where a violation of any environmental requirement has been committed by a person (other than an individual), any individual who at the time of the violation was a director, manager, supervisor, partner or other similar officer or responsible individual, or who was  purporting to act in such capacity, may be found individually liable for that violation if, having regard to the nature of his functions in that capacity, the resources within his control or discretion, and his reasonable ability to prevent the violation-

(a)       the violation was committed with his direct consent or connivance; or

(b)      he, with knowledge, did not exercise reasonable diligence to prevent the commission of the violation.


Section 70(2) of EMA Act further provides that it is an offence for any person who knowingly or recklessly allows or undertakes any activity in designated sensitive areas, or with respect to designated sensitive species, which may have an adverse effect on the area or species so designated, which carries the fine of $100,000.00 and imprisonment for two years.


Therefore, assuming that a lender exercises some degree of control over the borrower and its decisions and policy making, for example by appointing a director on the borrower’s board, the lender may be found to be liable for the violation that was committed.



Any investor who contemplates doing business in Trinidad and Tobago should become aware of the local environmental infrastructure. An investor does not wish to find himself without the requisite consent or licence, nor does he wish to invest in a company that is not in compliance with the the country’s environmental laws.■


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