The new General Part of the Environmental Code Act (GPELA) entered into force on 1 August 2014. This framework law finally sets the main definitions, principles, requirements and general provisions as to the issue of environmental permits. In the future, the GPELA will be complemented by a Special Part of the Environmental Code Act which will include specific regulation for various fields.
- The GPELA provides essential definitions such as environmental disturbance, environmental hazard, environmental risk, operator, installation, emission, emission limit value, and contamination. Although terms such as environmental hazard and environmental risk occurred in earlier legislation as well, the definitions were vague and their use inconsistent. However, similar terms used in earlier legislation will not be automatically construed under GPELA definitions. On the other hand, some definitions (e.g. emission limit value) are identical to those used in the Industrial Emissions Act.
- The GPELA lays down the main environmental obligations. These are universal obligations which apply to everyone at all times. For example, everyone must take all reasonable measures to reduce environmental disturbance caused by their own acts or omissions. Everyone must also be aware of any hazards inherent in their activities so as to prevent or reduce their occurrence.
- The GPELA lays down the main requirements on operators (e.g. of production units) relating to operating installations. In particular, operators must prevent environmental hazards and apply precautionary measures to mitigate environmental risks. An operator’s diligence is similar to the concept “professional diligence”. For example, an operator that knowingly applies inefficient measures fails the diligence requirement. Measures taken should in principle be sufficient to prevent a hazard.
- Provisions relating to environmental permits should enter into force separately in 2015. The GPELA will outline the general permissions system and specific provisions will be given in the Special Part in line with the specific needs of various areas of environmental management.
- Existing permits for special use of water, temporary special use of water, ambient air pollution, special pollution, extraction, radiation practice and waste will be replaced by a single environmental permit. As a result, a single application can be filed for all activities and joint public consultations will be held instead of overlapping parallel proceedings.