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Activities subject to permit
Which activities require an environmental permit and how are they classified for such purposes?
Swiss environmental laws do not provide for a general environmental permit and the Federal Act on the Protection of the Environment does not set out a general catalogue of projects and activities subject to environmental approval.
While certain activities subject to permit are defined in the Federal Act on the Protection of the Environment (eg, the operation of a landfill and the experimental release of pathogenic organisms), other activities subject to permit are defined in specific laws or implementation ordinances (eg, cutting down trees).
Which authority issues permits?
The required permits are issued by the authority in charge of the relevant matter. As per the applicable laws and ordinances, this may be a federal, cantonal or communal authority.
If several authorities are involved (eg, with regard to water protection, landscape protection and spatial planning), by law the authorities must coordinate their involvement and issue their decisions in a coordinated manner.
What are the procedural and documentary requirements to obtain a permit?
The procedural and documentary requirements to obtain a permit depend on the specific matter and are defined by the applicable laws and ordinances as well as directives, circulars and guides. In practice, it is recommended to contact the authorities in charge at an early stage of the approval process.
Do any permit fees apply?
Pursuant to the Federal Act on the Protection of the Environment, fees are charged for licences, inspections and special services.
On the federal level, the General Fee Ordinance applies. On the cantonal level, the fee ordinance of the concerned canton applies. In Zurich, for example, the fee for an environmental permit is calculated based on a time spent basis, whereby the fee may not exceed Sfr25,000.
Validity period and renewal
What is the validity period for permits and how can they be renewed?
General principles of administrative law apply to the validity period and the renewal of permits. Therefore, individuals may rely on a decision of the competent authority that defines certain rights and duties of the individual. Consequently, a granted permit may be changed or revoked only on a case-by-case basis and under specific conditions. The renewal of a permit is necessary if:
- the permit has been granted for a limited period;
- it has been revoked by the competent authority; and
- there are changes on the side of the permit holder.
Can permits be transferred? If so, what procedure applies?
General principles of administrative law apply to the transfer of permits. Generally, permits are granted to a specific person or company and are therefore not transferable to third parties without the approval of the competent authority. If a particular permit is granted to a specific object rather than a specific person or company, it remains in place if ownership in the concerned object changes.
Are permit decisions subject to appeal? If so, what procedure applies?
Permit decisions on environmental matters are subject to appeal pursuant to the specific provisions of the applicable environmental laws and ordinances and pursuant to general principles of administrative law.
The usual appeal period is 30 days. The applicable procedure depends on the issuing authority. Appeals against decisions of cantonal authorities are governed by cantonal law on the administrative procedure and decided by the competent cantonal administrative court. Appeals against decisions of federal authorities are governed by the Federal Administrative Procedure Act and decided by the Federal Administrative Court. In the case of an alleged violation of federal laws, decisions of cantonal administrative courts and the Federal Administrative Court may be appealed at the Federal Supreme Court.
Both the person requesting a permit and third parties that have a particular interest in the matter are entitled to appeal against the permit decision. In the case of major projects that require an environmental impact assessment, certain environmental protection organisations have a right to appeal as well. The concerned organisations must fulfil certain criteria, such as:
- pursuing non-profit making objects;
- being active on a national basis; and
- being listed in a federal ordinance.
What are the consequences of violating permit rules and decisions?
Violating permit rules and decisions may lead to administrative sanctions and penalties. Administrative sanctions are, for example, the revocation of a permit or the order to establish lawful conditions. Administrative penalties are usually monetary fines, but can also be custodial sentences.
Environmental impact assessments
Projects subject to assessment
What projects require a preliminary environmental impact assessment?
Environmental impact assessments are mainly governed by the Federal Act on the Protection of the Environment and the Federal Ordinance on the Environmental Impact Assessment.
Pursuant to the Federal Act on the Protection of the Environment, the requirement to conduct a comprehensive environmental impact assessment applies to installations that could cause substantial pollution to environmental areas to the extent that it is probable that compliance with ordinances on environmental protection can be ensured only through measures specifically applied to the project or site.
The Ordinance on the Environmental Impact Assessment defines the types of installation that are subject to an environmental impact assessment. For instance, this applies to railways, national roadways, harbour constructions in lakes, airports, nuclear installations, stadiums with a capacity of more than 20,000 spectators and gravel and sand pits.
Scope of assessment
What environmental factors and risks fall within the scope of the impact assessment report?
The purpose of an environmental impact assessment is to examine whether a construction project or a modification to an existing installation complies with the applicable environmental laws. The scope of such assessment is broad. Therefore, a project must not only comply with the Federal Act on the Protection of the Environment, but also with any other relevant provisions of environmental laws and ordinances, concerning for instance the waters and landscape protection, the protection of nature, the safekeeping of forests as well as fishing and hunting.
Anyone that wishes to plan, construct or modify an installation that is subject to an environmental impact assessment must submit an environmental impact report to the competent authority. The environmental impact report forms the basis of the environmental impact assessment and must include:
- the existing conditions;
- the project, including proposed measures for the protection of the environment and in the event of disaster, and an outline of the main alternatives evaluated by the applicant, if any; and
- the foreseeable residual environmental impact.
The environmental impact report and the environmental impact assessment are prepared and conducted according to the requirements and specifications of the Federal Act on the Protection of the Environment and the Ordinance on the Environmental Impact Assessment.
Who conducts assessments?
The Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) is the specialist agency on the federal level, whereas the cantons set up specialist agencies to conduct environmental impact assessments and assess other environmental questions on the cantonal level. Accordingly, the FOEN conducts assessments in approval procedures before federal authorities and the cantonal agencies conduct approval procedures before cantonal and communal authorities.
In certain specific cases, the competent authority must also consult the FOEN. This applies to assessments concerning refineries, aluminium smelters, thermal power stations or large cooling towers. The Federal Council may extend the duty to consult in order to cover other installations.
Are the results of impact assessments publicly available?
The results of an environmental impact assessment are published, usually together with the permit request of the concerned project. In a few limited cases, there is no obligation to publish the permit request of the project. In those cases, the results of environmental impact assessment are published separately.
Anyone may inspect the published report and the results of the environmental impact assessment unless overriding public or private interests require secrecy. Trade and business secrecy must be preserved in all cases.
The right to inspection includes the environmental report itself as well as any other information and document relevant for the decision-making process, such as plans, technical reports and specific files.
Can the results of an impact assessment be contested? If so, what procedure applies?
An environmental impact report and the result of an environmental impact assessment itself cannot be contested by specific legal remedies. But an appeal is possible against the permit decision for the concerned project. To the extent that an environmental impact report or an environmental impact assessment have been taken into account for the permit decision and led to incorrect or incomplete statements of facts or incorrect legal conclusions, they are covered by an appeal against the permit decision.
Appeals against decisions of cantonal authorities are governed by cantonal law on the administrative procedure and decided by the competent cantonal administrative court. Appeals against decisions of federal authorities are governed by the Federal Administrative Procedure Act and decided by the Federal Administrative Court. In the case of an alleged violation of federal laws, decisions of cantonal administrative courts and decisions of the Federal Administrative Court may be appealed at the Federal Supreme Court.
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