The second phase of the total reform of the Finnish Environmental Protection Act takes a step forward, as the Finnish Ministry of the Environment issues a draft government bill, which already proposes amendments to the new Environmental Protection Act, which entered into force at the beginning of September this year. The main objective in the said second phase of the reform is to make environmental permit procedures at the authorities more effective. However, it is unclear whether the new proposals will have time to make it through the legislative process before the parliamentary elections next spring.
The most significant of the proposed amendments is that the environmental permit would no longer contain a specific obligation for the operator to apply for the review of permit conditions before a deadline set in the permit itself. Instead the supervisory authority, i.e. the Centers for Economic Development, Transport, and the Environment, would on a case by case basis have the responsibility to evaluate and select those operators, whose activities actually require a review of the environmental permit, e.g. due to unacceptable emission levels or in order to update the permit to be in line with the best available technique.
Another proposed amendment to the Environmental Protection Act is designed to make the permit procedure more streamlined in situations where there is a change in the activity but the environmental impacts of such a change can be deemed to be limited. Currently an operator has to go through the full permit procedure if there is a substantial change in the activity or if the environmental impacts of the activity increase. According to the proposal, a more streamlined permit procedure would be used if the change in the activity does not substantially, but nonetheless more than slightly, increase pollution of the environment or the risk thereof. If only minor impacts are expected, a notification with the authorities would be sufficient.
Although the general purpose of the draft government bill has been endorsed, the draft bill has also faced some critique. One of the voiced concerns has been that the proposed measures may in a worst case scenario, contrary to their objective, end up increasing the workload of the supervisory authority and the courts. The public consultation for the draft government bill closed late in September and the Ministry of Environment is expected to continue the preparation of the government bill during the autumn.