GUYANA: Sending EPA Head on leave at this critical juncture is unwise – civil society

Since the Irfaan Ali administration took the decision to send Head of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA),  Dr. Vincent Adams on leave last week, several individuals have expressed frustrations over his removal at this critical time, as the government reviews Exxon’s third intended development in the Stabroek Block, the Payara project.

EPA Head, Dr. Vincent Adams

Concerns revolve around the fact that Dr. Adams sought to bring Exxon’s operations in line where a series of its environmental infractions are concerned.

Dr. Adams has championed several environmental issues plaguing ExxonMobil’s operations at the Liza Destiny Floating Production, Storage and Offloading (FPSO) vessel, and has noted that he had actively been rewriting permits to ensure they are sufficient to ensure Guyana’s natural environment is safeguarded.     

These issues include ExxonMobil’s refusal to pay paltry fines for small hydraulic fluid spills, flaring of billions of cubic feet of natural gas, and dumping of thousands of gallons of reservoir water into the oceans.

Eight civil society professionals in the diaspora, including regular letter writer Darshanand Khusial wrote a joint note describing the frustrations best. They stated “A patient with cancer would want an experienced world-class oncologist to give the diagnosis and prescribe the treatment. For a life-changing event, one wouldn’t fire the oncologist in the middle of their assessment and then seek advice from a replacement with much less qualifications and experience. But it appears the Government of Guyana has done just that in forcing EPA Head Dr. Vincent Adams to take his vacation at a critical period in the assessment of the Stabroek Block oil operations.”

Up until the government’s decision to send him on leave, Adams held up the approval of the Payara permit because he wanted to ensure that ExxonMobil conducted its due diligence to protect Guyana’s environment, lest it be allowed to proliferate such hazards in more projects.
Despite ExxonMobil’s threats that it would take its money elsewhere, “Dr. Adams has stood his ground and was not intimidated by the oil companies,” the civil society professionals stated.

“We need strong leadership like that demonstrated by Dr. Adams to protect Guyana from being exploited by the oil companies in their pursuit of shareholder profits,” they stated. “Dr. Adams has 30 years of experience in the US Department of Energy with key leadership roles ranging from nuclear to environmental. He earned his PhD from University of Tennessee. If we reject our best, how can we escape the resource curse?”

The Transparency Institute Guyana Inc. also recently wrote asking the Government to explain why Adams was being sent on leave.

“We see no reason for removing our best qualified person for reasons other than misbehaviour,” TIGI’s Director, Alfred Bhulai stated, “especially when ExxonMobil wants to release reservoir water into the ocean instead of injecting it into the wells.”

He noted that Dr. Adams has sharply opposed the continued occurrence of these environmental hazards, and posited TIGI’s view that it is for Adams to decide on the approval of the Payara permit that if anyone else is handed the decision to make, it would not have confidence in the agency.

One letter writer, Mike McCormack, head of the Guyana Human Rights Association, noted the demoralizing impact of the Government’s decision on many Guyanese who have been impressed with Adams’ leadership of the EPA, and his drive to protect the environment.

“Recruitment of the best professional services of qualified Guyanese requires they be protected from the absurd assumption that they are ready to abandon years of professionalism to partisan politics.” McCormack stated, adding that whether Adams is still an executive of the Alliance for Change (AFC) should have no impact on how he is expected to perform at the helm of the EPA.

Leader of the Alliance for Change (AFC), Khemraj Ramjattan had expressed disappointment last week, calling Adams’ removal a “most egregious development”. He had called on journalists, politicians and civil society to condemn and mobilise politically against the development.

McCormack said that while there is room for improvement at the EPA under Dr. Adams, the understanding is that this is due to inadequate resources and staff, rather than his own performance.

He concluded that unless convincing evidence is provided that Adams is exhibiting less than professional behaviour, it could only be assumed that it is his professionalism that the administration takes issue with.

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  • guyaneseonline  On 09/04/2020 at 4:29 pm

    Deleted in error – Now re-installed:

    brandli62 commented on GUYANA: Sending EPA Head on leave at this critical juncture is unwise – civil society

    This story has the potential to become the first huge scandal for the new government. Didn’t Bharrat Jagdeo claim that their policies will be guided by experts and professionalism? If so, how do you justify the (temporary?) removal of an expert with years of international experience in environmental regulation and enforcement from his office as head of EPA? it is not the case that Guyana is littered with people of Dr. Adams profile and CV. You could find them in the diaspora, but who will want to return, if they have to expect this type of treatment?

    I can only agree with the final statement of the article:

    “Unless convincing evidence is provided that (Dr.) Adams is exhibiting less than professional behaviour, it could only be assumed that it is his professionalism that the administration takes issue with.”

    We are still waiting for an explanation by President Ali or Bharrat Jagdeo. The latter is usually very fast at making his positions clear to the public. Why is he silent for days?

  • guyaneseonline  On 09/04/2020 at 4:34 pm

    Yvonne-K commented on GUYANA: Sending EPA Head on leave at this critical juncture is unwise – civil society

    Jagdeo is silent because it’s America who is calling the shots, not him. America needs to have someone in that position who will play ball. Dr. Adams is not that person.

    • brandli62  On 09/18/2020 at 4:50 pm

      Richard, given all you said about Dr. Adams, he is the perfect person for the position as Head of the EPA. I hope the government will reverse their decision.

  • Richard W Meehan  On 09/16/2020 at 8:30 pm

    I was a professional colleague of Dr. Adams for over 10 years at the US Department of Energy and find his professional ethics impeccable and beyond reproach. The only credible reason for his forced sabbatical is that there are likely issues with his zealous stewardship of Guyanese natural resources. Further, it is likely that there is political corruption lurking somewhere in Georgetown. Look for and follow the money and you will find the REAL reason Dr. Adams is on “vacation.”

    • brandli62  On 09/17/2020 at 4:31 am

      Richard, many thanks for you insight. You confirm my impression about Dr. Adams. He is a jewel in the Guyanese civil service and it’s a disgrace to the new government to send him on leave during this very critical phase that requires environmental expertise in dealing with Exxon. President Ali and VP Jagdeo have to date not been able to provide a rational explanation to why this measure was taken. It’s not the case that Guyana has a big basket of environmental experts to replace to easily replace such a seasoned veteran.

      Was he too outspoken for VP Jagdeo taste? Or did his ethnic back ground make him unfit to serve in such a powerful position? In any case, it’s troubling and cast a shadow on the self-prescribed professionalism of the new government. I can name other examples disproving their questionable expertise.

      • Richard Meehan  On 09/18/2020 at 9:43 am

        I would add that Dr. Adams often spoke of the immense natural beauty of his native Guyana. “The Land of Many Waters,” as he referred to it. He spoke of the natural wealth of the country, bauxite and the potential for petroleum development. His concern was thoughtful and carefully regulated development of energy and mineral resources to protect the streams, waterfalls, jungle and wildlife. He foresaw a vibrant tourist industry to introduce the world to the natural beauty that he treasured growing up. That is why his forced sabbatical is so troubling. Perhaps he was over zealous executing the responsibilities of his position as the Executive Director of the Guyanese EPA? Knowing Vince, I can see him posing tough, technically challenging questions to those who would propose development without a proper and well considered plan. I can see him demanding performance as a condition for his approval. Therefore, I am left with the suspicion that he was appointed to the position as Executive Director by those that thought his past affiliation with BP and the U.S. Department of Energy would render him sympathetic to the cause of speedy development of natural resources without due regard for environmental impacts and the potential for destruction of the natural beauty of Guyanese land and water resources. Let’s be clear, immense financial gains accrue from petroleum development and refining. They are inherently dirty processes and require costly pollution abatement technologies and controls. Government sanction of elimination of even the smallest portion of waste management technology can result in significant increased profits. As I said in my original post: Follow the Money.

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