What opportunities for corruption would a law on atmospheric preservation present?

Publish date: January 25, 2011

Written by: Mikhail Chursin

Translated by: Charles Digges

ST. PETERSBURG – The Russian State Duma plans in the near future to review a bill that would define air as a natural resource, like water and useful mineral, and legal entities would be responsible under the legislation to pay a state duty of 2,000 roubles ($65) for its use for “production purposes.” Bellona is analyzing the bill for loopholes that would open it to corruption.

The Lipetsk initiative

The bill “On introducing changed to the federal law ‘on protecting the atmosphere’ and specific legislative acts of the Russian Federation” (downloadalble to right) was sent to the Lipetsk Regional council of deputies for review by the Lipetsk Duma Committee on Natural Resources, Resource Management and Ecology directly after the New Year’s holidays on January 10.

The Lipetsk lawmakers suggest including amendments in the second part of the Tax Code, which provides for payment for air consumption by so-called juridical bodies, or businesses, for production needs as well for issuing permits to do so.

The law “On protecting the atmosphere“ also suggests introducing a decree on norms and limited allowable consumption of air by businesses. Correspondingly, the bill would obligate businesses to seek permission for air intake, which would in its turn be issued by the Ministry of Natural Resources upon payment of a state duty of 2000 roubles. It also suggests reviewing fines of 10,000 to 15,000 roubles for violating rules on taking air out of the atmosphere without permission. And responsible parties at organizations illegally taking air from the atmosphere, and violating the rules on exploitation of air intake, according to the legislative project, could be individually fined from 1000 to 4000 roubles.
Bellona frequently associates with groups of citizens on air pollution in Russia cities. “Our work shows that even the authorities confess that air pollution is one of the most important problems in Russia’s environment,” said Nina Popravko, a lawyer with the Ecological Rights Centre (ERC) Bellona in St. Petersburg. “We are currently preparing a report on violations of the environmental rights of Russia’s citizens and many cases described in the report are directly ties to atmospheric pollution.”

Why particularly Lipetsk

The Novolipetsk Metallurgical Combine is he biggest air polluter in the Lipetsk Region and one of the most active polluters in Russia as a whole. In fact the portion of pollution caused to Lipetsk by the combine is 95 percent of all local air pollution, even though the plant has undertaken a number of emissions cleanings measures.
“Despite the pronouncements of authorities that the air in the city is cleaner, doctors assure us that the opposite is the case and have established a growth of lung illnesses in the city,” said Nikolai Rybakov, ERC Bellona’s executive director.

Statistically, the Lipetsk Region ranks as one of Russia’s relatively satisfactory areas, but only because gauging that state of affairs takes into account many factors. If only the situation with the atmospheric pollution is taken into consideration, then the situation would be different. By official statistics, 17 out of every 1,000 resident of the region have chronic obstructive lung disease. This is twice as high as average indicators. And even experts think this is an underestimation – the real figure, they say, is twice as high.

The Kyoto Protocol

It is worth bearing in mind that the Kyoto Protocol obligated Russia to realize policies and measures to limit and cut emissions, measures like increased energy efficiency, cooperative forestry renewal, the introduction and use of cutting edge and innovative ecologically safe technologies.

The absorption of  greenhouse gas emissions buy conducting forestry management and land use management annually equalled 190 million tons in 2007. However “the extraction of air and separation of greenhouse gasses during the process of burning for production needs is performed by juridical bodies, and forest restoration and the rehabilitation of forests that absorb greenhouse gasses is provided for by government authorities,” the Lipetsk Duma Deputies lament.

Because of this, the regional parliamentarians think that the adoption of the new bill will allow a bridging of the gap between current legislation as it pertains to the regulation of legal relationships concerning norms of allowable air consumption, the manner of their establishment, the definition of payments for air use and the establishment of measures of responsibility of juridical bodies for violations of procedures on air consumption. And, in the final analysis, “the project of the given federal law will allow the creation of economic conditions for the perfection of technological processes for the reduction of greenhouse gasses and provide for the minimum atmospheric consumption necessary for production needs,” read the explanatory notes accompanying the bill.

What are the chances?

It is not yet clear if the federal government will take heed of the initiative taken by their regional colleagues. “Surely, the chances for its adoption would be greatly increased if it was initiated not by a regional parliament but by the president or the government,” said Rybakov. “(Federal) Duma deputies regard regional parliamentarians as younger brothers and are not especially attentive to their initiatives. Such are the circumstances even when a regional parliament consists entirely of United Russia party members,” said Rybakov in reference to the Kremlin-backed Duma party of power. Some 80 percent of deputies in the Lipetsk Region are members of the United Russia faction. “Therefore, the chances the bill will be adopted exist if the Lipetsk deputies find good lobbyists in the Duma,” Rybakov said.

Anti-corruption study

Bellona and Transparency International, a global civil society agency that fights corruption, conducted a study of possible openings to corruption in the bill (downloadalble to right).

“The Lipetsk deputies are worried first of all about the condition of the atmosphere. But the law itselt will hardly help solve the problem – and will likely create new corruptible mechanisms,” said Nataliya Yevdokimova, a legal expert with ERC Bellona who assisted in conducting he corruption analysis.

“There is already too much ambiguity in the bill and too much that gives up buy out opportunities to bureaucrats.”