Aug 01 2008

North Iceland Smelter Delayed by Impact Assessment.

Iceland Review – Minister of the Environment Thórunn Sveinbjarnardóttir decided yesterday that the planned Alcoa aluminum smelter in Bakki, near Húsavík in northeast Iceland, and related geothermal power plants should undergo a joint environmental impact assessment.
With her decision Sveinbjarnardóttir reversed a decision made by Skipulagsstofnun – the Icelandic National Planning Agency that the Bakki smelter project does not have to go through an overall environmental impact assessment, Morgunbladid reports.

Landvernd – the non-governmental Icelandic Environment Association filed a complaint to the Ministry of the Environment because of the planning agency’s decision.

CEO of Landsvirkjun – the National Power Company Fridrik Sophusson and information officer of Alcoa Erna Indridadóttir both say that Sveinbjarnardóttir’s decision had taken them by surprise. Because of it, the execution of the Bakki project will be delayed.

Kristján Thór Júlíusson, first MP of the Independence Party for the Northeast Iceland Constituency, also said he was very surprised with the minister’s decision.

Júlíusson said that since the planned Nordurál – Century Aluminum smelter in Helguvík in southwest Iceland did not have to undergo an overall assessment, he assumed that the same would apply to Bakki.

“The world is supposed to be about harnessing natural resources to create capital goods,” Júlíusson said. “But the big issue is the attitude the Social Democrats [Sveinbjarnardóttir’s party] have towards harnessing the country’s natural resources. It is very peculiar how this project is being handled by the Ministries of Industry and Environment.”

Minister of Industry Össur Skarphédinsson, also of the Social Democrats, recently renewed a declaration of intent with Alcoa in regards to a smelter in Bakki.

Júlíusson stated that the Social Democrats did not know which way to turn regarding smelter issues. “There are clearly conflicts within the party. If they cannot solve this problem, it is very unfortunate in my opinion.”

Sveinbjarnardóttir said her decision regarding Bakki will delay the process of preparation for the aluminum smelter by two weeks at the most. In the end her decision would deliver a more thorough assessment and a better overall decision, she said.

The minister added that she had to make a different decision regarding Helguvík because preparations were further underway and therefore she had to take the middle course.

If any readers feel like encouraging the Minister of Environment in doing her job properly, contact Þórunn Sveinbjarnardóttir-, Ministry of the Environment, Alþingi, Kirkjustræti, Reykjavík 101, Iceland.