Aug 06 2008

Environment Minister’s Smelter Decision under Fire

Iceland Review – The Althingi parliament’s environment committee will review Minister of the Environment Thórunn Sveinbjarnardóttir’s decision to have the entire aluminum smelter project at Bakki near Húsavík in north Iceland undergo a joint environmental impact assessment.
MP for the Social Democrats and chairman of the environment committee Helgi Hjörvar agreed to assemble the committee and discuss the controversial move made by the minister after receiving a proposal on the matter from Höskuldur Thórhallsson, the Progressive Party’s representative on the committee, 24 Stundir reports.

“At first sight it seems to me that [the decision] does not fall under middle course and equality regulations when a decision was recently made regarding another aluminum smelter, the smelter in Helguvík,” Thórhallsson said.

Ground has been broken fo a planned aluminum smelter in Helguvík on Reykjanes peninsula, southwest Iceland, and Minister Sveinbjarnardóttir decided that an overall environmental impact assessment for both the smelter and the related power plants would not be necessary in that case.

However, Sveinbjarnardóttir decided last week that such an assessment would be necessary in the case of Bakki and has consequently been subject to harsh criticism.

2 Responses to “Environment Minister’s Smelter Decision under Fire”

  1. Jaap Krater says:

    It was a bad decision not to have a joint asessment for the Century smelter. But at the time, pro-alu politicians pointed out that it was at the discretion of the minister to decide. Now that she makes a decision that they don’t like, is it not her discretion anymore?
    Also, if the impact of this project is so low as proponents claim, why be so afraid of a joint impact asessment?
    Of course the real question is, who will make the joint assessment? If it will be HRV (who have done a preliminary assessment for Bakki which is advertised on Alcoa’s website currently (only Icelandic) then it will be pretty unlikely it will be critical since HRV Honnun have made so much money already out of aluminium projects for Alcoa, Century and Alcan, that they can never be expected to make an objective assessment…

  2. Sigurður says:

    MPs: Government Wants Both New Smelters To Be Built

    Iceland Review

    Despite the controversial decision made by Minister of the Environment Thórunn Sveinbjarnardóttir to have the planned north Iceland aluminum smelter project at Bakki undergo a joint environmental assessment, representatives of both government parties say the smelter will be built as well as the planned smelter in Helguvík, south Iceland.

    “The government’s policy is that these projects will be carried out as long as agreements on energy can be reached and developers follow them through,” party group chairman for the Independence Party Arnbjörg Sveinsdóttir told Fréttabladid.

    Party group chairman for the Social Democrats Lúdvík Bergvinsson agrees, adding that both the Helguvík and Bakki projects were already well underway while the previous Independence Party-Progressive Party coalition government had been in power.

    “It would be strange governing if a new administration would overturn everything that the former government had done,” Bergvinsson said. “These two plants will not be stopped without laws and this government will not stop them with legal measures.”

    Sveinsdóttir said Minister Sveinbjarnardóttir’s decision to have the Bakki smelter project and related energy harnessing projects undergo a joint environment impact assessment had been unnecessary and likely to delay operations.

    Bergvinsson on the other hand, who is in the same party as Sveinbjarnardóttir, believes that an overall assessment may prove beneficial for foreign investors. They can make a decision as soon as the assessment has been submitted instead of waiting for the results of four different assessments and not knowing what to expect.

    Stefán Thors, director of the National Planning Agency, said they will try to find ways to prevent delays to the Bakki project although the agency cannot speed up an environmental impact assessment bound by law.

    Franz Árnason, chairman of of Theistareykir, the company responsible for harnessing geothermal energy in north Iceland for the planned aluminum smelter, said if an overall assessment is not completed by next summer, experimental drilling has to be postponed by one year since drilling is only possible four months per year.

    However, Magnús Jóhannsson, undersecretary of the Environmental Ministry, does not believe a joint assessment for the smelter and the power plants will delay operations since statutory deadlines remain the same as before Sveinbjarnardóttir decided on a joint assessment.

    Before the general elections in May 2007, the Social Democrats introduced their “Beautiful Iceland” (Fagra Ísland) policy, including that all heavy industry projects would be put on hold. After ground was broken for the smelter in Helguvík and the declaration of intent with Alcoa on the Bakki smelter was renewed, the Social Democrats have faced harsh criticism from environmentalists, especially the Left-Green Party.

    Now that Minister Sveinbjarnardóttir has decided that the Bakki project should undergo an overall environmental impact assessment and not the Helguvík project, her party is facing criticism from those supporting heavy industry projects in Iceland, especially from former Minister of Industry and former Foreign Minister Valgerdur Sverrisdóttir of the Progressive Party who comes from north Iceland.