On Tuesday, the Seimas almost unanimously approved that better regulation instruments and investment improvement measures are of no use. Project impact and alternative options are unnecessary when urgent changes of laws are required. I emphasise – changes of laws rather than information systems (GPAIS) or improved inter-institutional cooperation measures (their changes in Lithuania would be more difficult than laws). The Ministry of Environment noes not consider what has been done by the Ministry of Economics and Innovations together with the Ministry of Justice for 15 years already.
The new package had to increase taxes for environmental pollution MANYFOLD. Increase MANIFOLD! Businesses were given time to adjust – 11 months. Here I think what if the European Union increased some taxes for Lithuania six times for the sake of environmental protection and ordered to comply within 11 months? If municipalities increased the cost of waste removal to us as household polluters several times? Everybody generates pollution – consumers, manufacturers, politicians. Politicians would have to pay for legislative “pollution”. One might be willing to pay even more for pollution, however, it should be known in such a case that the money will be used for the right purpose and the environment will be better protected. Today it is clear to everybody that the state control system of environmental protection does not work; it means, the money will not be used for the right purpose.
Businesses will have to pay under the new laws for national laboratory tests in case unauthorised or above-limit pollution is identified. Shouldn’t these services by the state be covered by the fines imposed for violations of environmental protection requirements? Are the fines too low?
The measures introduced are such that polluting manufacturing would be identified and closed without any chances to the company to rectify the deficiencies. Production companies are seldom capable of paying the fines imposed by the Environmental Production Department even today. Such fines are most often reduced SEVERAL TIMES by courts. Because the Department’s estimations are not convincing for the court.
The new package provides for new possibilities for the Environmental Protection Department to suspend the operations of companies (the law does not mention any potential obligations to rectify deficiencies, which would apply together with the decision to suspend operations). The new law reads: “in the case of an essential change in the characteristics of a facility or an equipment making it impossible to comply with the permit conditions or carry out the operations stated in the emission permit, or perform appropriate state control of environmental protection, a compulsory order to suspend such operations shall be issued”.
If control cannot be carried out in a proper manner, are the company’s operations suspended even where such company is not an infringer? The regulation that, in the cases when it is impossible to carry out the operations stated in the emission permit, the operations (which are not carried out) shall be suspended is even more strange. The regulation which ruins the operations of a company in the absence of any serious violation and without an opportunity for the company to eliminate the deficiencies violates the freedom of business activities in Lithuania. An appeal against such compulsory order (any order, not only suspending operations) of the Department does not suspend enforcement of the compulsory order. Otherwise stated, all orders by the Department must be enforced urgently and unconditionally.
And of course, the new package has introduced a more stringent procedure for the issuance of emission permits, ICCP. In order to reduce regulatory burden, a number of assessments underlined that polluting production companies must obtain a screening conclusion for environmental impact assessment and then apply for the issuance of an emission permit or the ICCP. These procedures are partly overlapping as a large quantity of data from the screening conclusion is transferred to the emission permit or the ICCP. It had been proposed for this reason to issue these permits more effectively. The Seimas, however, yesterday approved a longer process consisting of several repeated procedures by introducing the amendments requested by the Ministry of Health long ago concerning the involvement of the National Public Health Centre in the issuance of ICCP and emission permits (which earlier had not been approved by the Ministry of Environment itself).
To end with – the information systems of the Ministry of Environment. Not only the Unified Product, Packaging and Waste Record Keeping Information System does not work in Lithuania. The environmental protection area lacks national informational systems for environmental impact assessment, the issuance of ICCP and emission permits. Businesses file all documents (environmental impact assessment, public health impact assessment, applications for emission permits or ICCP permits) today in hard copies with attached full electronic document versions. Information systems are also unavailable for the alignment of decisions among institutions.
Therefore, not only businesses are unable to get such permits electronically (and, after yesterday’s developments, will be unable for a long time because officials will have to make on-site visits to verify compliance with conditions); the Environmental Protection Department and other authorities are also unable to get prompt data from the permit issuing authority (Environmental Protection Agency).
Prepared by Daiva Dumčiuvienė, Partner