'We want investments and jobs - but not at expense of public health and climate'
At least one local environmentalist has hit back at Sally Porteous, custos of Manchester, over her arguments urging the Government's authorisation of a coal plant for a US multibillion-dollar investment into the Alpart alumina plant in St Elizabeth.
The Chinese-owned Jiuquan Iron and Steel Company (JISCO) is planning to spend US$3 billion or J$387 billion for the upgrade of Alpart's alumina plant in Nain and expansion into a special economic zone. More than 3,000 people are expected to be employed over the six-year period of initial investment.
However, a proposal to use a coal-fired plant has angered environmentalists, forcing the Government to come out declaring that any decision on whether to use coal is almost two years away.
Speaking last week at a Gleaner Jobs & Growth Forum in Manchester, Porteous did not hold back.
"While I listen to, and respect, the environmentalists, I sincerely hope that it is not going to be a case of crying wolf and preventing an enormous opportunity for Jamaicans to get work.
"From what I understand, they will not be using coal from China, they will be using coal from Colombia. The Alpart plant itself would be run on oil, and the coal they are going to be using for the coal plant will not emit any worst emissions than oil," she added, noting that she recently met with Chen Chunming, the JISCO chairman.
But Diana McCaulay, chief executive officer of the Jamaica Environment Trust (JET), said Porteous' analysis is not deep enough, and so, too, is her view that coal is cleaner than oil.
"People are entitled to their views. But coal is a 19th-Century technology. It is time for us to move forward, and it is time for us to take the position that we want development and we want industry and we want business and we want jobs for our people, but not at the expense of public health and the climate."
She added: "Jamaica is incredibly vulnerable to climate change. To say that you're willing to take this risk for some short-term jobs, I find mystifying."
Jamaica has been going through decades of low growth, double-digit unemployment and crippling debt levels that have created the circumstances for a loan agreement with the International Monetary Fund."
NOT FIRST TIME
It is not the first time a local official has waded into controversy over securing needed investment for the country. Last year January, in the face of a hotel investment being derail over breaches, Robert Pickersgill, then environment minister, in lifting a cessation order remarked that he took note of the "the substantial value of the project to the Jamaican economy, which outweighs all other consideration".
In September, Mining Minister Mike Henry said a decision on the coal proposal was at least 18 months away.
Global environmental advocacy group Greenpeace has said constructing the plant would violate the Paris climate agreement aimed at limiting global warming.
Porteous maintained that the Chinese investment represents an opportunity to bring well-needed economic growth to central Jamaica.
"This is the centre of the island's only chance for revival. We have nothing else. We're not near a beach, the north coast is taking care of itself very, very well, and I can see very great business going into Kingston.
"We have the opportunity of a lifetime with JISCO coming to take over that plant," she said.
The Manchester Chamber of Commerce said it is already taking steps to get the parish ready to claim some of the spinoff benefits.
"We're currently in discussions with investors to try and lure them and encourage them to come into the development of the parish to aid in the development of the parish, especially as it related to three main areas," said Michael Gottshalk, the chamber's manager of communications and public affairs.
He said housing to accommodate the expected influx of workers, entertainment and parking are at the top of the list.