NGOs lambast planned environmental law changes

Ljubljana – Environmental NGOs warn that proposed changes to the environmental protection and spatial planning acts would exclude them from key relevant procedures and scrap legislative safeguards. Without the latter an irreparable damage could be caused regarding the environment and public health, they said Tuesday.

The Environment Ministry-proposed changes would scrap an article providing judicial protection that could be used to challenge implementing spatial acts in court, the Umanotera NGO said on behalf of a number of organisations.

“Using such rules, construction of damaging industrial facilities or waste processing plants could begin in one’s neighbourhood, however one would not be able to challenge these decisions any more,” the NGOs warned.

The Environment Ministry meanwhile said that the provision was thrown out after the public consultation period due to the remarks received and the fact that the provision in force at the moment is being challenged at the Constitutional Court.

The ministry believes that judicial protection would not be limited without this provision because anybody demonstrating legal interest can challenge legislation at the Constitutional Court.

Moreover, the government seeks to impose stricter conditions on NGOs to further restrict their potential participation in administrative procedures. This step was already adopted last year with changes to both the construction legislation and the environmental protection act.

“In the new environmental protection act proposal the government goes a step further. NGOs are simply excluded from key environmental procedures. They would not be able to take part in [environmental impact] assessments, the only thing they could do would be to appeal against the adopted decision,” reads the NGO’s press release.

Invoking the commitments of the Aarhus Convention, the NGOs pointed out that “the environment does not have a voice to defend itself”, so it was key for environmental NGOs acting for the public good to act on its behalf.

“It seems that the current government isn’t aware of the obligations and responsibilities imposed on Slovenia by the ratification of the convention or it simply doesn’t care.”

The press release was issued by Umanotera, Young for Climate Justice, Focus, Greenpeace Slovenia, Ecologists without Borders and DOPPS – BirdLife Slovenia among others.

The NGOs are determined to see the proposed changes withdrawn, warning that by excluding NGOs the relevant procedures would not be fast-tracked, on the contrary they could even be prolonged due to appeals.

They also highlight the role of dialogue with NGOs acting for the public good in coming up with any legislative changes or decisions on key development projects that impact the environment.