The proposed amendments to the Law on Integrated Prevention and Pollution Control (IPPC Law), which was submitted to the National Assembly without any public debate, demonstrate that the Republic of Serbia and the competent Ministry of Environmental Protection do not have the capacity to implement regulations. The Government proposed to postpone the deadline for issuing integrated permits (IPPC permits) to large polluters, this time until the end of 2024. Postponing the deadline for issuing IPPC permits is a clear signal to polluters that the laws do not apply to them and that the state will always be there to support them in lawlessness because it itself does not care for the laws and is not able to implement them.
The draft Law on Amendments to the IPPC Law was adopted at the 86th session of the Government of the Republic of Serbia, held on October 21, and submitted to the National Assembly on 22 October 2021. The draft law contains only three articles, and Article 2 proposes to postpone the deadline for issuing IPPC permits for existing plants until 31 December 2024. Currently applicable law prescribe that the deadline for obtaining the IPPC permits expired on 31 December 2020.
Why are IPPC permits important? These permits provide for comprehensive protection of air, water and soil from pollution, prevention of pollution and the application of the best and most environmentally friendly technical solutions. These permits ensure that even large polluters operate in accordance with high standards of environmental protection and do not cause harm to human health and the environment.
Is the preparation and processing of an integrated permit application a demanding procedure? Of course it is. It requires serious preparation, hiring experts and obtaining numerous conditions and approvals. Therefore, only large polluters and companies have this obligation. By the nature of their work they should have the capacity to prepare an application for the issuance of an integrated permit. Those are the obligations deriving from the law, of which the competent authorities and companies have been aware for 18 years.
Is it necessary for the state to provide sufficient administrative and professional capacity to process applications for IPPC permits? Of course it is. But from 2004 until today, in the department within the Ministry of Environmental Protection, in charge of issuing IPPC permits, unacceptably few employees have been hired – according to the systematization of job positions within the Ministry, only four people have been engaged for issuing integrated permits. It is similar within the Provincial Secretariat for Urbanism and Environmental Protection, while in many local governments there are no employees who could issue IPPC permits.
The aim of these amendments, as stated in the explanation, is to extend the deadline for the competent authorities to resolve the submitted applications for the issuance of an IPPC permit. The amendments, as it is stated, will provide conditions for more efficient functioning and organization of issuing IPPC permits on the territory of the Republic of Serbia.
How? By postponing the deadline for 3 years? Let’s use a simple calculation. If 46 out of 227 permits were issued in 18 years, how will 181 permits be issued in three years? Even in countries with better administrative capacity, an average of 3 to 4 permits are issued per year. Let’s not introduce into the math new plants that will be constructed in the next three years. The government does not find it necessary to explain to the citizens why the system has not worked so far, nor does it see its responsibility in the devastating results in this area. And it shall be pointed that the competent institutions are deserving for the fact that a year after the expiration of the legal deadline, most large polluters do not have an IPPC permit.
The real question is what has the Government done so far to eliminate the problems it quotes today as reasons for postponing the deadlines again? What will the proposer of the law do in the coming years in order to avoid delaying these obligations again? The proposer of the law does not give an answer to this question, but explains that the strengthening of human capacities and education of staff is currently not in the work plan of the Government.
The previous amendments to the IPPC Law, i.e. postponing of the deadline, was argued by the Government in an almost identical manner as now: insufficient time for operators to submit complete documentation, insufficient capacity of competent authorities to verify that documentation and issue IPPC permits, which would economically harm the operator. Additionally, this time the Government emphasized that a major problem is the lack of necessary documentation that is submitted with the application for the issuance of IPPC permit (usage permit, project documentation, water permits and conditions of other competent authorities). How is it possible that the Government of a state, which pretends to be a state governed by the rule of law, lists elementary obligations of operators, such as setting a water permit or other conditions of the relevant authorities among the obstacles to apply the law? Why doesn’t the Government eliminate those unnecessary bureaucratic nonsense by simply changing these laws as well?!
Based on the IPPC Law, the Ministry of Environmental Protection has prepared a preliminary list of facilities subject to the issuance of an IPPC permit, which includes a total of 227 facilities. Up to date, as stated in the analysis of the effect of the law, only 46 have been issued, which means that at this moment a total of 181 facilities are carrying out activities without the necessary work permits. Accordingly, some of the largest polluters in the Republic of Serbia do not have these permits: not one the thermal power plant operated by Public Company “Elektroprivreda Srbije”, not one facility within the mining complex in Bor operated by Zijin Bor Copper doo, as well as not one facility within the iron factory complex operated by HBIS Group Serbia.
The Law on Environmental Protection stipulates that the inspector has the right and duty to determine whether the conditions for the operation of the facility and the performance of activities are met. Also, the inspector has at his disposal a wide range of powers that would eliminate illegalities and oblige operators to undertake obligations in accordance with the law. The IPPC Law stipulates that starting the plant and performing activities without an IPPC permit is a commercial offense for which the operator should be fined in the amount of RSD 150.000 to 3.000.000, and the responsible person within the operator fined a fine in the amount between RSD 30.000 to 200.000.
Despite the explicit legal obligation, the competent inspection authorities did not implement this law. In order to point out the shortcomings in the work to the competent authorities, RERI, so far, submitted five requests for initiation of extraordinary inspection surveillance, as well as two reports for commercial offences against responsible polluters.
At the end of a day a question arise: Why do we even have procedures for licensing, if authorities continue to delay deadlines in favor of large polluters. Are their interests above public interest, and if they are, why do they make our legal and constitutional order meaningless by passing laws and amendments to those laws that they know will not be applied?