Spain and Portugal are revising their legislation on environmental impact assessments, with an eye on easing rules for high footprint investments of questionable development potential.
In Spain, Law 21/2013 “on environmental impact assessment”, modifies the National Hydrological Plan allowing for water transfer schemes in the Tajo-Segura water basin and paving the way for other inter-basin water transfers, such as the much-contested plan for the Ebro River. According to a coalition of 100 organisations, including WWF Spain, Greenpeace, Ecologistas en Accion and SEO/Birdlife, the new law seriously undermines the implementation of the EU’s Water Framework Directive.
The coalition states that through this law, the Government also bypasses the need for public consultation and participation in decision-making about water management. The new law also includes hydraulic fracturing for shale gas.
In Portugal, a landslide of changes to environmental legislation, focusing on the reduction of licensing procedures for investments in industry, tourism, commerce and geological production (extractive industry), has occurred during 2013. According to the reports published by the European Commission, reviewing the Economic Adjustment Programme for Portugal, the “principle governing these reforms is moving from an ‘ex-ante’ approach, which requires prior control and authorisation by the administration towards a Zero Authorisation principle based on ‘ex-post’ control by the administration”. Given that the ‘precautionary principle’ is the foundation of all environmental licensing, ex-ante control of the environmental impacts of a broad range of public and private projects and plans is essential.
Greece continues to introduce sweeping and haphazard changes to its environmental licensing (revised in 2012) and forestry legislation (currently under revision), with the declared aim of allowing any type of investment, even within protected areas. Muddled and one-sided, those legal initiatives often undermine the legal certainty, which is vital for both investments and effective nature conservation.
Sources: ENDS Europe, Ministerio de Agricultura, Alimentacion y Medio Ambiente (in Spanish), WWF Greece.