Russia Natural Resources Ministry to reintroduce state environmental impact studies

Publish date: November 9, 2008

Written by: Vera Ponomareva

Translated by: Charles Digges

CHISINAU, Moldova – Russia’s Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology plans to suggest amendments to Russia’s law “On environmental impact studies” and is specifically planning on expanding the list of installations requiring such state studies, which will bring it far closer to those facilities required to undergo environmental evaluations in transboundary context as provided for by the 1991 Espoo Convention.

“We agree that corrections to the City Building Code significantly pinched the interests of the ecological community, and the interests of the country by a large account,” said Larisa Korepanova, a representative of the department of state policy and regulation for technological and nuclear safety in the natural resources ministry. She was speaking at a seminar on raising the potential reach of the Espoo Convention in Chisinau, Moldova that took place on November 5th to 7th.

The seminar drew the attendance of natural resource protection ministers and officials from Ukraine, Belarus, Moldova, Romania, Armenia, and Russia as well as representatives of nongovernmental organisations.

“We are reviewing the possibility of correcting legislation on environmental impact studies, specifically we plan to expand the list of installations requiring such studies, and bringing it closer to the list specified by the Espoo Convention,” said Korepanova.

According to her, the natural resources ministry plans “to differentiate the demands of the environmental evaluations for different categories of installations, including simplifying a number of procedures, and making more concrete and detailed material demanded for environmental impact evaluations.”
The text of the bill is still not publicly available. Korepanova promised, however, that it will soon appear on the website of the natural resources ministry as soon as the developments are completed.

The corrections introduced to Russia’s City Building Code and a number of federal laws in 2006 were met with wide protest from nongovernmental organisations. These amendments completely nullified the possibility of state environmental impact studies of any installation that was being built anywhere other than those that were planned for construction in specially protected nature preserves or on the continental shelf.

Since 2007, instead of all encompassing environmental impact studies, projects pass through a process of agreement that concludes with an examination of the corresponding technical regulations. The majority of the regulation, however – including the establishment of ecological norms – have still not been developed.

Environmentalists say that the situation is unacceptable and demand that Russian legislation be brought into accord with international standards.

On November 1st Bellona began collecting signatures on postcards addressed to Russian President Dmitry Medvedyev with the demand that the government ratify the Espoo Convention – which was signed by Russia in 1991. The convention established mechanisms for international cooperation in the conduction of environmental impact studies in those situations when an installation in one country could impact the environment of another. Adherents of the convention take on the obligation of informing one another of plans to build such installations and to conduct consultations with official bodies and the public of neighboring countries.

“The Espoo convention poses a high standard in the area of environmental evaluations and procedures for public participation,” said Rashid Alimov, editor of Bellona Web’s Russian-language pages. “We would like Russia to join the countries that have taken on this obligation.”

The convention’s appendix 2 contains a list of installations and facilities that must be the subject of trans-border environmental evaluations. These include nuclear and thermal electric plants, hydroelectric plants, chemical combines, ports, oil terminals, pipelines and other potentially dangerous facilities. The list includes 22 types of facilities, and these are planned to be added to Russian legislation, significantly expanding the list of those facilities requiring international environmental evaluations.

In this manner, state environmental evaluations will be established for large-scale projects in Russia should the bill be successful.

Nord Stream: Russia’s first experience with international evaluations
Despite the fact that Russia has yet to ratify the convention, the natural resources ministry welcomes the adoption of its procedures in Russia.

“In our opinion, its not ratification that is important, but the adoption of universal approaches to protecting the environment,” Korepanova said.

The single project in Russia that has gone through a trans-border procedure of environmental evaluation in accord with the Espoo Convention is the Nord Stream gas pipeline, which is planned to run 1189 kilometres along the bottom of the Baltic Sea from the Russia-Finnish border town of Vyborg to the German city of Graifswald.

“This is really a unique project for Russia, it is the first experience for Russia in observing the position of the Convention,” said Lyudmilla Bogdan, an expert on environmental cooperation between Russia and the European Union from the Russian Regional Ecological Centre at the Chisinau seminar.

“It was the company’s good fortune to receive more than 200 critiques of the project, all of them, from the public, government agencies, scientific societies, received answers in the framework of the so called ‘White Book’ which was prepared by August of this year,” she said.

Bogdan also voiced the hope that the trans-border evaluation procedure would be adopted for the engineering for the planned South Stream pipeline, which will run from the southern Russian city of Novorossiisk to Varna Bulgaria. The project is presently in the developmental stages of the technical-economical basis. However, according to Russian gas giant Gazprom’s plans, the pipeline will be operational by 2013. Negotiations with Gazprom about the trans-border environmental evaluations have not been completed.

“It is pleasant for us to hear that Russia is using the Convention in specific projects. We hope that this process will in the end lead to ratification,” Nikolya Bonvuazin of the Convention’s secretariat said at the seminar.

The Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant 2
Most countries neighboring Russia in Europe and Central Asia have ratified Espoo and are obligated to share their plans for construction of large-scale facilities with the countries they border – who are also adherents of the convention. In October, Russian environmentalists tried to take part in discussions about the planned Ignalina Nuclear Power Plant 2, which Lithuania plans to build. Despite the fact that Lithuania does not have to formally take into consideration the opinion of Russia’s public, environmental organisations composed their remarks on the environmental evaluation of the Ignalina 2 plant and presented them to the Lithuanian side.

Environmentalists hope that Lithuania, in accord with the spirit of the Espoo Convention, will not leave these remarks unanswered and will consider them during the development of documentation.