Information on the Environment

The European Union has approved the Convention designed to facilitate

  • access by the public to environmental information,
  • participation in the decision-making process, and
  • access to justice in environmental matters.

Parties to the convention must take the necessary legal and regulatory steps to enable public officials and authorities

  • to help and advise the public to have access to information, participation in decision making, and access to justice;
  • promote environmental education and environmental awareness;
  • provide for recognition and support of associations and groups which promote environmental protection.

Generally, the public has rights of access to information on environmental matters within certain time limits.  Access may be refused if the authority does not hold the information, if it is manifestly unreasonable, formulated too generally or the request concerns material in the course of completion.

Requests may be withheld on the grounds of

  • confidentiality of proceedings of public authorities,
  • national defence,
  • public security
  • furthering the course of justice
  • confidential commercial and industrial information,
  • intellectual property rights or
  • confidential personal data and
  • the interests of the third party who has volunteered information
  • location or rare species

However, the refusal must be strictly justified with reference to the criteria.

A decision to refuse information must state the reasons and indicate what forms of t appeal are available.  Public authorities must keep their information up to date and establish publicly accessible lists and registers.

The public must have the right to participate in the decision-making process.  They must be informed earlier in the decision-making of the:

  • matter on which the decision is to be taken;
  • nature of the decision,
  • the authority responsible,
  • the procedure –
  • practical details of a consultation procedure;
  • procedure for environmental impact assessment.

Persons who believe that their right of access has been impaired must have access to a review process under national legislation.

Environmental Impact Assessment

The environmental impact assessment directive is obligatory for public and private projects. An assessment is obligatory for certain projects including

  • dangerous industrial facilities such as oil refineries, nuclear stations, nuclear waste treatment facilities, integrated chemical installations;
  • power stations of more than 300 megawatts or nuclear stations;
  • transport infrastructure such as railways, airports, motorways, inland waterways, and ports when the infrastructure exceeds certain levels;
  • waste and water treatment facilities;
  • large mining facilities;
  • water transport or storage facilities;
  • installations for the intensive rearing of poultry or pigs which exceeds specific thresholds.

Projects not designated for mandatory assessment are not automatically subject to assessment.  A state may decide to subject them to assessment on a case-by-case basis according to thresholds and criteria such as size, location, potential impact.

The projects concerned include those in the following fields:

  • agriculture, forestry, aquaculture;
  • mining industry;
  • industrial facilities for generating, transporting, and storing electricity;
  • production and processing of metals;
  • mineral industry;
  • chemical industry;
  • food industry;
  • textile, leather, wood, paper, and rubber industries;
  • infrastructure projects such as shopping centres, car parks, underground railways;
  • tourism-related projects such as holiday villages, theme parks.

The developer must provide the authority responsible for the decision with information including at a minimum

  • a description of the project, location, design, and size;
  • data required to assess the main impacts on the environment;
  • measures which are possible to reduce significant adverse effects;
  • main alternatives considered and the reasons for the choice;
  • non-technical summary.

Subject to confidentiality and secrecy issues, the information must be made available to interested parties early in the decision-making process.  They include

  • the public;
  • authorities likely to be consulted on the authorisation;
  • other members states where transnational effects may apply.

There must be reasonable time limits allowing time for interested parties to react.  Their opinions must be taken account of in the procedure.

At the end of the procedure, the following information must be made available to the public (and transmitted to other states where applicable;

  • approval or rejection and any conditions applicable;
  • arguments upon which the decision was based after examination of the results of the public consultation including information on the process of public participation;
  • measures to reduce the adverse effect of the project.

Updated EIA Legislation

A 2011 Directive updates the law on Environmental Impact Assessment of public and private projects likely to have significant effects on the environment.

The information is to cover direct and indirect impact on the local population, human health, biodiversity, land, soil, water, air, climate, material assets, cultural heritage and landscape.  Details of the reasonable alternatives must be proposed.

There is further provision for public consultation. States must decide within a reasonable time, whether to authorise the project or not. They must make available to the public and environmental, local and regional bodies, the contents of the decision including the main reasons for their approval and any environmental or other conditions they attach.  The reason should be given for refusal.

Eco Audit

The EU has established the eco-management and audit scheme which is open to voluntary organisations.  The purpose is to promote continuous improvements in environmental performance.

There are criteria for registration of organisations within an EU state.  Once registered, there are obligations

  • regarding having an environmental management system and audit program;
  • updating the environmental statement and having it validated;
  • forwarding the updated and validated statement to the regulator;
  • forward certain information requirements to the regulator.

Registered organisations must carry out an internal audit of their environmental performance and compliance with the applicable legal regulation.

The EMAS logo may be used for so long as registration is valid and organisations are authorised.

Environmental verifiers assess compliance of an organisation, environmental review policy, management system, audit procedures, and their implementation, and the environmental statement.  They must verify compliance with the applicable legal requirements relating to the environment.

The commission must update and publicise:

  • a register of environmental verifiers;
  • a database of environmental statements;
  • a database of best practice on EMAS.

Environmental Accounts

A 2011 Regulation provides for European environmental economic accounts.   There is a common legal framework for compiling harmonised accounts across the EU.   It covers statistics on air emission accounts, environmental taxes and material flow accounts i.e. contribution to the economy of raw materials, minerals, and biomass.

It introduces three extra modules,

  • environmental protection expenditure accounts;
  • environmental goods and services sector accounts;
  • energy accounts.

Environmental protection expenditure accounts measure economic resources set aside for environmental protection.  Environmental goods and services sector accounts measure a country’s production activities that create environmental goods and services. Energy accounts report physical energy flow such as electricity, expressed in terajoules, into or within an economy and outputs to other economies and the environment.

The accounts provide information on indicators such as:

  • market output and jobs in the environmental goods and services sector;
  • national environmental protection expenditure;
  • use of energy and a detailed breakdown by standardised category.

Criminalisation of Environmental Breaches

EU states must criminalise behaviour which is seriously detrimental to the environment.  Certain behaviour committed intentionally or through serious negligence must be classified as a criminal offence if legislation in the area is infringed. This includes

  • unlawful discharge into the air, soil, or water of materials or ionising radiation which cause or are likely to cause death or serious injury or substantial damage to the environment.
  • the unlawful collection, transport, recovery, or disposal of waste which is likely to cause death or serious injury or substantial damage to the environment;
  • unlawful shipment of waste in non-negligible quantities;
  • unlawful operation of a plant in which a dangerous activity is carried on or in which dangerous substances or preparations are stored or used or which cause or is likely to cause death or serious injury or substantial damage to the environment;
  • unlawful manufacture, treatment, storage, use, transport, importation, export, or disposal of nuclear materials or other hazardous radioactive substances which are likely to cause death or serious injury or substantial damage to the environment;
  • unlawful killing, destruction, possession, or trading in protected animals or species;
  • unlawful damage to protected habitats;
  • unlawful trade in ozone-depleting substances.
  • inciting, aiding, and abetting the offence must also be an offence.

Criminal penalties must be effective, proportionate, and dissuasive.  Legal persons such as companies may be held liable when offences have been committed for their benefit by persons who hold leading positions within them either individually or collectively.  The liability may be criminal or administrative depending on the legal system.

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