New Anti-Environmental Duma

Publish date: March 22, 2004

Written by: Grigory Pasko

Bellona’s Grigory Pasko and Duma Deputy Chairman for the Committee on the Environment Anatoly Greshnevikov went head to head about environmental legislation, stagnation in the Russian government over ecological issues, and the future of Russia’s environment. The prognosis for positive environmental law-making is not good.

Grigory Pasko: Mr. Greshnevikov, how can you describe the work of the previous Duma regarding environmental bills?

Anatoly Greshnevikov: I would call the previous years—during the third Duma’s period—the period of anti-environmental legislation. It would be incorrect to say that there were no bills in the Duma’s portfolio. There were a number of them, including those inherited from environmental committees of the previous Dumas, such as “On Soil Protection,” “On Animal Protection from Cruelty,” “On Government Control over Radioactive Waste Handling,” “On Government Control over Ecological Education,” and so on.

There were many good bills which failed to pass for various reasons. Such failures were hardly connected to their insufficient development. The bill “On Ecological Education,” for instance, had been under preparation for seven years. Some bills failed to be coordinated in the government. Those titled “On Drinking Water” and “On Soil Protection” got lost in the Federation Council [the Russian Parliament’s upper chamber]. Some were viewed by the presidential administration as minor, or even unnecessary. As I recollect more bills, an obvious conclusion comes to my mind: Initiated by the Duma Committee on Environment, the bills are further suppressed at various levels of the government. I have signed and sent a great many letters addressed directly to President Vladimir Putin regarding this.

Excerpt from the appealof State Duma Deputy Anatoly Greshnevikov to the President of the Russian Federation on January 19, 2001: “We believe that first it is necessary to set up a legal basis in the system of radioactive nuclear waste handling and solve the problem of our own overloaded storage ponds at atomic stations as well as to enlarge the PT-1 plant’s limited capacity for SNF reprocessing to avoid Russia’s overload with foreign waste not to allow Russia to become an SNF global burial vault.

Excerpt from the response by the First Deputy Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation (and current Prime Minister)Mikhail Fradkov to Anatoly Greshnevikov on February 16, 2001: The draft bills "On Introduction of Changes into Legal Act 50 of the Law,” “On Environment Protection," “On the Introduction of Changes in and Amendments to the Federal Law,” and “On Atomic Energy Unilization” are focused on the solution of environmental problems, first of all on the improvement of radiation safety.”

Pasko: You mean it is the executive power’s fault that bills necessary for this country have still not been signed?

Greshnevikov: That’s right. It is the authorities’ fault that the population’s environmental awareness is going down. The authorities are diminishing the importance of environmental policy. The past years have seen the destruction of state environmental policy.

Suffice it to say, the environment protection agencies—the Federal Forestry Agency and the State Committee on Environment Protection—were liquidated. That was not done unintentionally, but consciously, to bring natural resources under the control of economic laws. At a later date, more shut-downs took place: The Federal Environmental Fund was closed down; some ecological police subdivisions were laid off, the Ecological Expertise Agency lost its independence and autonomy; in a number of universities environmental studies were cut out from curricula.

In the Podpushkinsky Forest, a group of experts concluded that the forest should not be cut down as it ranked in the nation’s first group of forests. However, under pressure from certain authorities, the expert conclusion was overlooked—against the wishes of environmentalists. Such is today’s “efficiency” of ecological impact studies. There are other similar cases. For instance, in the Sakhalin-2 project, the experts, legal and environmental opinion had not been considered and eventually, as it is known, an anti-environmental Forestry Code was approved.

Excerpt from the appeal by Anatoly Greshnevikov to the President of the Russian Federation on September 20, 2001: “The state policy in regard to the first group forests brings about environmentalists’ increasing concerns. First, the government shut down RosLesKhoz (the Forestry Administration) and GosKomEkologia Russia’s State Committee on Environmental Protection, which would implement independent and due control over the conservation for the first group of forests. Secondly, the government increased the amount of resolutions on the transfer of the first group of forests into non-forested lands. In the third place, the government is now working actively on removing environmental protective measures from the Land Code of the Russian Federation.”

Excerpt from the response by Deputy Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation Vyacheslav Soltaganov to Anatoly Greshnevikov on October 17, 2001: “The issues concerned in the appeal—first of all, those regarding the illegal misappropriation of forest lands by legal entities and individuals, and the insufficiently grounded transfer of forests into non-forested lands, as well as the inefficient control by the government over forest preservation and the necessity of the harmonization of present legal and other standard acts – are truly pressing. Your proposals have been directed to the government of the Russian Federation for concrete actions.”

Excerpt from the response by First Deputy Minister of Natural Resources Yury Kukuyev to Anatoly Greshnivikov on November 27, 2001: “All the regulations by the government of the Russian Federation on forest transfer into non-forested lands will undergo review by state experts. The transfer materials will be considered in a local government. The Forest Code is not among law regulating environmental assement issues. We find it pointless to implement changes to the Forestry Code on environmental impact reports."

Pasko: What is the regions’ attitude toward the changes in the environmental policy of the state?

Greshnevikov: Moscow’s unintelligible and even anti-environmental policy gives rise to regions’ initiatives of assigning environment controlling tools, such as environmental impact reports, completely to Moscow, as in the case with Bashkortostan. But if experts’ conclusions have no effect in Moscow, how are they going to be ruled in the regions?


Pasko: How are environmental payments and environmental taxes introduced?

Greshnevikov: The draft bill “On Environmental Payments” was prepared and even introduced in the Committee on the Environment of the State Duma. Even the head of the committee, Vladimir Grachev, became aware of its importance and supported the bill. But as a representative of the United Russia faction, bound to the party’s discipline, he had to back off from further promotion of this bill due to the negative response from the government and the president’s administration. This bill should have been fought for. It should have been proved vital, not for environmentalists or parties but first of all, for all of us. Thus, I believe the payment issue is yet to be resolved.

Pasko: It is known that there is a whole chapter in the criminal code called “Environmental Crimes?” Seventeen articles provide for various penalties for environmental violations like atmosphere and marine and earth pollution, etc. What has the Duma done to make these articles work?

Greshevikov: We have amended the criminal code several times, and the administrative one, in order to optimize environment-related articles. But each time we came across adverse opinions held by government officials. Within the committee, there were also those who found the amendments impractical. In effect, the articles still are not working to the full extent they should and the situation with violations has not improved.

Pasko: The Environmental Fund is among the agencies which you think have been shut down heedlessly. Do you believe the Fund should be revived?

Greshevikov: Yes, it should, because the Fund did serve its purpose: It funded environmental measures and programmes. The Fund’s local branches would protect specially allocated assets from “disappearing” in federal and regional budgets. The abolition of the Federal Environmental Fund (FEF) undermined the economic mechanism of state control over natural resource utilization. It is worth noting that payments for environmental pollution are non-taxable. They should be used for environmental protection purposes.

The FEF elimination, followed by severe fund cuts in environmental programs, has jeopardized Russia’s fulfillment of its international environmental obligations. The shutdown has made it more difficult for Russia to pay off part of its external debt in exchange for the funding of environmental projects on its territory.

Excerpt from the Anatoly Greshnevikov’s appeal to the President of the Russian Federation on November 5, 2001: “It is necessary to preserve the FEF status as the only federal structure capable not only of the coordination of regional environmental funds but also control over calculation accuracy and payments by each enterprise that uses natural resources—suits, penalty charges, debts—such a unique database of the Fund cannot simply go neglected. So I am asking you to commission the government to recall the liquidation of the Fund.”

Excerpt from the response by Deputy Minister of Natural Resources of the Russian Federation Andrei Kygim to Anatoly Greshnevikov on March 18, 2002: “The budgeted FEF balance is insufficient to fund all environmental activities, according to regions’ applications to the liquidation commission. The funding of the most important environmental programmes prepared by the liquidation commission will be one of the turning points of the liquidation activities’ completion prior to the approval of the liquidation balance sheet.”

Pasko: Mr Greshnevikov, it would certainly be interesting for our readers to learn how decision-making on the above or other draft bills takes place. What is the discussion and voting mechanism like, not only technically speaking, but rather psychologically in regard to the environment?

Greshnevikov: I will give you an example. We were discussing the incorporation of amendments into the Forestry Code when the issue of the first group of forests was being decided. This group of forests establishes the climate and is of high importance in terms of environmental protection. At the Duma session, it was decided to consult with the Committee On Property. I arrived with my report at the committee session headed by a Mr. Pleskachevsky. When it was my turn to report, many committee members stood up and left the room. I next asked why they were leaving, because there was still an important report to discuss. I was told not to worry and that those leaving and absent had already voted against my amendments. You see, with no knowledge of the amendments themselves and the reasons for their necessity and approval, the committee members had already known how to behave. Of course, I read my report, but the amendments, as is clear, failed. Such is the mechanism. Deputies often engage in double-talk—saying one thing behind the scenes and deciding something entirely different when it comes time to the vote.

Pasko: What do you think are the environmental committee’s priorities for the near future?

Greshnevikov: The environmental committee, I believe, will be very wise if it does not initiate one single bill at this time as they will be approving anti-environment laws. It looks like the days of approving environmentally-conscious and useful bills are gone. There was a time when the committee was headed by heroes of our generation like Lemeshev, Zlotnikova. What wonderful bills were carried. And today there is only a feeling of shame for currently approved bills.

Pasko: What innovations are in the new Duma with the majority of the United Russia faction now?

Greshnevikov: A so-called Duma Council that decides which draft bills are worth discussing and which are not has been created. It is a sieve through which the bills that are unwanted by the pro-presidental faction are sifted. The council has set up the following “filters”: For a bill to be able to reach discussions, government approval is necessary, and for it to be justified, it must have received the presidental administration’s consent. The first Duma session has shown that the current Duma will fail to carry good bills on the environment.

Excerpt from the appeal by Anatoly Greshnevikov to the President of the Russian Federation on December 13, 2001: “Your representatives and experts have found the approval of the bills “On Environmental Safety,” “On State Regulation of Environmental Education,” and “On Animal Protection from Cruelty” unadvisable. The Environmental Committee received negative conclusions on the three bills approved in the three readings, i.e. “On Drinking Water,” and “On Handling of Radioactive Waste”. “Unadvisable” turned out to be the bill “On Incorporation of Changes and Amendments to the Forestry Code” (regarding the preservation of first group forests). 2001 has failed to become the year of perfecting environmental legislature.”

Excerpt from the response by the Deputy Secretary of the Security Council of the Russian Federation Vyacheslav Soltaganov to Anatoly Greshnevikov on January 8, 2002: “The government of the Russian Federation issued a resolution of December 7, 2001 “On Approval of Federal Purpose-Oriented Programme,” and “Russia’s Environment and Natural Resources(2002-2010).” The government of the Russian Federation envisages the development and improvement of the legal basis and system of standard acts providing the control over environment protection and natural resources utilization.”

Pasko: Do you know anything about the plans on the re-organization of the Ministry of Natural Resources and new appointment to the minister post?

Greshnevikov: No, I have heard nothing so far. It would be great, of course, to have a minister with sound knowledge of environmental issues who would be very supportive of them. Some officials have learned to be eloquent about environmental doctrine and sustainable development, but in fact do nothing specific about it. As for me, I am convinced there will be no successful economic development without the resolution of environmental problems.