An overhaul of the Environmental Protection Act is under way. The preparatory work began in the Ministry of the Environment in late 2011. The draft proposal was submitted for hearing on 15 November 2012, and the statements on the draft were received by 7 January 2013. The reform is to be completed by 31 December 2013, and the Ministry of the Environment would like the new act to enter into force at the beginning of 2014, though it seems likely that this schedule will not be met.

The current Environmental Protection Act has been in place for more than a decade. It has been amended several times over the course of the years, which has made it partly incoherent and difficult to understand. The new act will implement certain amendments made to EU law. In addition, the proposal aims at harmonising the structure of the act and at making permitting and supervision procedures more efficient.

What Will Change?

Some of the envisaged changes are very thorough. In particular, the conclusions of the BAT reference documents or BREFs, which are used in the consideration of environmental permits, will become legally binding. This new status of the BAT conclusions is a substantial change. Another significant reform is that the value of nature will be taken into account in permitting. This aspect has met with some criticism during the preparatory work. It remains to be seen how the act will turn out once the preparation work has been completed. At any rate, the new act is intended to preserve the basic principles of the current Environmental Protection Act.

BAT Conclusions to Become Binding

One of the objectives of the new act is to implement in national legislation the requirements set out in the Industrial Emissions Directive. In this respect, the most significant individual reform is that the BAT conclusions used as references in permit decisions will, in practice, become binding when the question is of large installations. Additionally, the new act will implement the requirements concerning large combustion plants set forth in the Directive.

Changes in the Protection of Soil and Groundwater

According to the proposal, the operators of large installations would have to prepare a baseline report if the operation of the installation involves the use, production or release of substances that may pollute soil or groundwater. When the operation of such an installation ceases definitively, the baseline report would be used to assess whether it has affected the soil or the groundwater. However, the aim of this reform is not to change the basic principles of the duty to treat soil and groundwater.

Consideration of Value of Nature

According to the Ministry of the Environment, the new act aims at ensuring that values of nature are observed in environmental permit procedures in an enhanced and more comprehensive manner. This applies to situations where values of nature have not been sufficiently taken into account in planning. In the Ministry's proposal, if an activity caused deterioration of the value of nature, this could lead to the permit being rejected.

Strengthening Supervision

The Ministry proposes to improve the efficiency of supervision by increasing the planning of supervision and by focusing supervision efforts according to risks. Part of the supervision would fall under a new ‘supervision fee’. This would mean that regular supervision such as periodic monitoring, reviews of periodic reports that operators submit to the authorities and inspections related to administrative compulsion would become subject to fee.

The environmental experts at C&S will closely follow the progress of the project.