Contentious provision removed from water bill

Ljubljana – The environment and economy ministries have withdrawn a planned provision allowing construction of manufacturing facilities which use hazardous materials in water protected areas. The decision was welcomed by the Greens Slovenia party, and by environmentalists, who however also want the other contentious provision removed.

The withdrawn provision is one of the two from the changes to the water law that environmental NGOs and other experts have recently criticised as unacceptable.

It would change Article 69 of the existing water act to allow the construction of buildings and installations in water protection areas under certain strict conditions.

These would be waste facilities, and production facilities using hazardous materials for which an environmental permit is needed, the Ministry of the Environment and Spatial Planning said in Wednesday’s press release.

Environmental NGOs and other experts, including the GZS’s chamber of public utilities, have recently spoken against the changes, urging MPs to vote them down.

The now withdrawn provision was included by coalition MPs upon the Economy Ministry’s initiative after the public consultation period had already been completed.

Changing such important legislation without consulting the public has been problematised by Human Rights Ombudsman Peter Svetina and the standing committee on climate policy, a consultative body to President Borut Pahor.

The other contentious provision is the planned change to Article 37, which allows construction of public or public utility infrastructure in coastal areas.

Its opponents believe it poses a risk in case of accidents, but the provision remains in the bill, which is being fast-tracked through parliament.

Today’s decision was welcomed by the Greens Slovenia as a major achievement in less than a week after their leader joined the government.

However, NGO Eko Krog and four associations of water experts, including hydrogeologists, insist the entire bill be withdrawn as it still contains the change to Article 37.

They argue the planned change poses risks of degradation for the land and bodies of water in coastal areas and could pollute surface and underground waters.

The four associations fear the planned change would lead to a practice of limiting access to water as a public good, so they urge a comprehensive public discussion.

Eko Krog says the provision that is still in the bill “would allow construction on bodies of water such as rivers, lakes and the sea which is now banned, including business facilities, car parks, buildings designed for transport”. Expanding construction options would in its view make it hard to keep investors’ appetites at bay.

The Greens, whose leader Andrej Čuš became a state secretary at the Economy Minister last week, said the withdrawal “proves the voice of Greens Slovenia has been heard the very first week in government”.

The party believes it has taken a major step for the benefit of the green movement in Slovenia and showed it could play a constructive part in efforts to draft legislation.