Georgian Hydropower Environmental Assessments Hidden from Public

From 2012 to 2015, the Norwegian company Norsk Energi assessed 20 Republic of Georgian hydropower project EIAs as part of a project financed by the Norway Ministry of Foreign Affairs called “Sustainable Hydropower Development in Georgia.”
[An Environment Impact Assessment (EIA) is a document in which a company assesses the impact of its work on the environment and all the best possible methods of mitigating any damage].

The quality of the work done in producing all 20 EIA documents was rated as poor. Norsk Energi did not make the results public on its website. Three Georgian ministries —  Environment, Energy and Economy– say they have not requested the final report from Norsk Energi, so it is not yet available for public scrutiny.
The report, compiled by  environment experts Schivcharn  Dhillion from Malasya and Mamuka Gvilava from Georgia, examined 20 EIA 120 components and explained the flaws in the Georgian documents.
OCCRP asked for the report from Norsk Energi.  Sergei Faschevsky, the person currently responsible for the project, wrote: “It turns out that reports that are published on our website presents the KEY outputs  of the project. The report you are referring to was developed as a BACKGROUND input  for discussions in a Stakeholder Working Group, to be used for internal discussions and not as a standalone output. “
Norsk Energi made public a report EIA Policy and Process in Georgian Hydropower Development, authored by Marina Guledani. But this report only analyzed the legal work in EIA preparations and procedures, not the EIA reports themselves.
Norway Ministry of Foreign Affairs allocated two million Norwegian Krones (about $USD 230,000) for the project “Sustainable Hydropower Development in Georgia”.  Ministry press officer Kristin Enstad responded: “I suggest you contact Norsk Energi.”
—  Gross Energy, the local company chosen by Norsk Energi to execute the project.  Deputy director Sopho Chiachagua responded:  “We do not give away information apart from (identifying the) program authors. We were just local coordinators.”
Ministry of Environment.  “No such report was officially submitted to our ministry chancellery,” said Tamar Sharashidze, chief of the licenses and permits department at the ministry.
Ministry of Energy. “We do not have these reports at the ministry”, said Giorgi Shukakidze, a ministry deputy chief who attended meetings on the project. “If we ever need it, nothing is stopping us from getting them.”
— Ministry of Economy. “We have not requested the information because we are satisfied with the information we got during workshops; we thought it was enough for us,” said Grigol Kakauridze, chief of the technical and construction supervision agency at the ministry. “To tell you the truth, I did not know if there was a final report done.”
All three ministry spokespersons said that although the ministries had not requested the final report from Norsk Energi, it would be good if the results were made public.
To a question, did either of these ministries try to request and make the report public, three of them said it would have been good to make it public for the society but added they had not requested it from Norsk Energi.
Nino Chkhobadze, a former Minister of Environment and now co-chair at Green Movement/Friends of Earth of Georgia, worked on the project. She accuses the ministries of hiding the report. She said the report was done to assist the ministries of environment and energy.
“Why are these ministries hiding the report?” she said. “They should have received it [from Norsk Energi],” Chkhobadze said.
Why is Norsk Energi report important?
The project Sustainable Hydropower Development in Georgia had three components.  The first component was supposed to raise awareness among local people in areas by where hydropower projects were planned. The second component was supposed to study the EIAs were created, define their flaws, and suggest solutions. The third component was to share best practices.
     To study the Georgian EIA processes, Norsk Energi hired independent experts specializing in environment sciences, among them Schivcharn Dhillion, Mamuka Gvilava and Marina Guledani.  In their contracts, Norsk Energi included a confidentiality clause prohibiting them from discussing publicly the content of specific EIAs without Norsk Energi permission.
    On June 24, 2015, in a discussion organized by Heinrich Boell Stiftung’s Tbilisi office, Gvilava, one of the experts hired by Norsk Energi, talked about the EIA assessments report. He did not specify the sector, but it was clear from the maps he showed that he was referring to hydropower sector.
   Gvilava gave a presentation called Environment Policy and Examples of its (Non)-Fulfillment in Georgia and talked about 20 EIAs assessed by a group of experts.  He said they had five grades:
  • Excellent (comprehensive and sufficient)  +2;
  • Good (minor gaps and inadequacies) +1;
  • Satisfactory (some gaps and inadequacies) – 0;
  • Poor (significant gaps and inadequacies) -1;
  • Very poor (fundamental flaws and weaknesses)  – 2.
       According to Gvilava, all 20 EIAs received “poor” or “very poor” assessments.
       “Take a careful look at the middle part of the presentation. It all black color – all concerns social issues [in EIAs],” Gvilava said.
       One problem he mentioned concerned decommission of the hydropower plants. He said none of the EIAs identified who would be responsible for dismantling the equipment and returning the environment to the condition  it was in before the construction.
     “When the EIA is prepared, the investor is responsible to take into consideration the preparation, building, and operational phases of a project. Everyone forgets about decommission phase,” Gvilava said.
     He said health and security issues were also overlooked.
Stakeholder Working Group Presentation – EIA identities kept confidential
     Gvilava made the same presentation in 2014 when Norsk Energi first delivered the assessment to working group members, which included representatives from the Ministry of Environment. Norsk Energi urged Gvilava to describe each EIA without specifically mentioning to which project it belonged.
     Nino Sharashidze, former First Deputy Minister of Environment, protested about the confidentiality policy to Norsk Energi.  According to the working group transcript, Sharashidze urged the EIA identities be made public. “Confidentiality is no guarantee of eliminating the problems”, she said.
“If we say that EIA quality and legislation should be improved, but people are not informed, the problem will not be eliminated,” added Tamar Sharashidze, chief of the licenses and permits department at the ministry.
     Endre Ottosen, project coordinator at that time for Norsk Energi, told Nino Sharashidze: “The aim of the project is to address the process and the system, not individual cases.“
    Schivcharn Dhillion, one of the report’s authors, said: “The aim was to identify common strengths and weaknesses. There were a number of EIAs with the same problem. Is it due to an individual or due to a lack of detailed checks that many countries have? Confidentiality is kept to protect individuals or the companies hired to prepare this.”
According to  Chkhobadze, the former Minister of Environment who was in attendance, “(the presentation) was one more evidence that EIAs in Georgia are done with poor quality.  We have known that copy-paste practice is prevalent and we have been saying this.”
     Accepting low-quality EIAs is not unusual for the Ministry of Environment.
“We have lots of awkward situations,” said Tamar Sharashidze. “As for copy-paste practice, it started when we made all the EIAs public on the website, EIAs became available for everyone.  Since then, anyone who had any connection with environment education started misusing public documents.”
    Sharashidze said that many times, in an attempt to make their EIAs look bigger, companies would use half the pages to analyze Georgian legislation which did not necessarily concern their project.
     “We ask them to analyze only the legislation that applies solely to their project. But there are still many errors. For example, EIAs cite a law which has been amended, but they do not reflect the changed version,” Sharashidze said.
   What kind of measures does the ministry take when they get low-quality EIAs?
  “We return them to the sender. They have to improve EIA and re-submit it to the ministry”,  Sharashidze said.
Environment Assessment Code
To improve the EIA assessment system and begin to adjust environment law to European rules and regulations as part of Georgia’s attempt to join the European Union, the Ministry of Environment developed an Environment Assessment Code legislation project. 
According to Sharashidze, the new legislation will require that local people: they will get information about a project from the very beginning and will have a chance to speak before any project is approved by the ministry. The law would introduce a Strategic Environmental Assessment,  which would assess the location of a proposed project and its availability before an investor has committed any financial resources.
The first draft of the Environment Assessment Code has been written. Public discussions will be held before it is introduced in Parliament.
See Georgian version of the article here

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