Ministry Presents Tougher Pollution Laws

Natural Resources and Environment Minister Yury Trutnev presented a report to the State Duma on Wednesday calling for measures that environmentalists have been asking for over the past eight years.

About 10 million people in Russia live near dangerously toxic sites, while the economy keeps falling behind other countries in energy and resource efficiency, Trutnev said.

The ministry is working on reforming environmental legislation, he said, changing the system of government regulation, introducing new methods like environmental insurance and audit and creating mechanisms to encourage efficiency.

The new legislation will also abolish "temporary" allowances, a loophole that industries have used to pollute air, soil and water above the government-established norms. "Such a system is not effective … and is prone to corruption," Trutnev said in the report. Legislation that would get rid of temporary allowances and increase fines sixfold has already been submitted to the Cabinet.

The system of governmental regulation will be changed by the end of next year to include financial incentives and remove administrative barriers, but switching to European standards of pollution control will take at least four years, Trutnev said.

The ministry is also pushing to re-establish the practice of government environmental assessment, which was effectively scrapped after the passage of the new Building Code in 2006. Proposed changes to the Building Code will be introduced in the Duma this month, a source in the ministry said Wednesday on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to comment.

"In general, these are positive intentions," said Vyacheslav Pankov, director of the Guild of Ecologists, a business association of companies in environmental planning, consulting and engineering from across the country. Pollution standards, however, must be re-evaluated carefully, he added.

Moreover, it remains a problem that environmental protection issues are overseen by the ministry in charge of natural resources extraction, he said.