Environmental Neglect has no Place in Future Society, Claims Expert

Environmental Neglect has no Place in Future Society, Claims Expert

In our daily routine, we rarely think about such global things as our planet, even though the health of all humanity depends on its condition. The largest enterprises making huge one-way profits deplete the Earth’s resources and cause environmental disasters. But this is not the first time when humanity has been deceived.

There is no doubt that our planet, its resources and health are being taken away from us...

After the high-profile environmental disasters that occurred in Taimyr, Kamchatka and in many other regions, more and more Russian citizens begin to realize that irresponsible attitude to the environment is no longer possible in the future.

The eco-agenda is vital for everyone and, as a result, entrepreneurs have to change economic models of their companies, conscientiously giving up the eco-hostile technologies. Today we are going to discuss this topic with Andrey Zlobin, the arbitration manager and head of the Moscow law firm ‘Pravo Ne Levo’.

- Mr. Zlobin, as a specialist working with many enterprises, you should know everything inside out. Do you think that Russian business will be able and, what is more important, willing to take the responsibility for sustainable development of environmental ecosystems?

- I think we must admit that there is no other option. Protection of the environment and the ‘eco-agenda’ related to this issue is a strong social requirement, which is relevant nowadays both in Russia and globally. For the business community, it is a matter of competitiveness, investment attractiveness and the image itself. This is evidenced from the perceptions of Russian experts working for Sberbank and the Ministry of Industry and Trade. To their mind, in the next 5-7 years the total amount of environmental expenditures in manufacturing sector’s cost structure may grow significantly to 10 percent to 25 percent.

Unfortunately, the factories built in the Soviet era have already reached their limits.

Technological disasters, considered as a kind of saboteurs, are likely to happen all the time in the future. No wonder ecologists are raising the alarm as there is no escaping the fact that it was high time to make changes. The post-Soviet legacy has been exploited for 30 years now. Its margin of safety passed its expiry date a long time ago. It will become obvious soon who of the current owners of enterprises have carefully preserved, properly treated, rebuilt and renovated the assets inherited from the Soviet era and who of them, on the contrary, treated this heritage carelessly, barbarously exploiting it at full possible capacity.

Take the recent example: a diesel fuel leak that had occurred on 29 May 2020 at a cogeneration plant in Kaerkan (a town near the industrialized city of Norilsk in the north of the Krasnoyarsk territory) during the process of depressurization of the diesel fuel tank became an environmental disaster and a national emergency. Similar accidents, of course, happened before, but no one paid such close attention to them. Now, according to eco-experts, the attitude to the ecology has changed greatly, making the general public speak about this change in a positive way, as nature has finally begun to cost real money!

Earlier enterprises had to pay about 30,000 to 50,000 rubles in fines for leakages, but now the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resources Management (Rosprirodnadzor) demanded that Nornickel, one of the world’s leading producers of nonferrous metals, pay off 148 billion rubles for the damage it caused. More than 21,000 tonnes of oil products were discharged into the ground and water. The company did not agree with the amount of the fine. Nornickel representatives believe that the agency overestimates the negative impact of harmful substances on water bodies and the volume of oil products that got into the water.

Anyway, this incident changed a lot. Other users of natural resources, who operate similar tanks with diesel fuel, became seriously concerned about the condition their storage facilities are in. They also started to think about protection, as well as about preventing violations and leaks. Just the other day, another report appeared saying that Rosprirodnadzor had filed a new record-high lawsuit. This lawsuit is filed against Gazprom's subsidiary for causing damage to the environment.

The Arbitration Court of the Astrakhan Region will consider a claim for 225.145 million rubles from the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resources in the Astrakhan and Volgograd Regions against Gazprom Pererabotka. This amount is dozens of times bigger than other fines imposed on the company for environmental violations. The penalty was imposed for polluting an area of 136,000 sq. m of soil with sulfur.

In our company ‘Pravo Ne Levo’ my colleagues and I have to travel a lot around the country. I deal with bankruptcy cases in different regions and see how the attitude towards the ecology is changing. Even bankrupt companies, belonging to the sector of industry that affects the environment, which virtually do not operate, still have to undergo periodic inspections by regulatory authorities regarding environmental oversight.

Here is another recent example. The head of a district in the North Caucasus region of Adygea became a defendant in a soil pollution case. He illegally ordered his subordinates to bury wastes on the land plots and this resulted in earth pollution of the important agricultural lands by chemically harmful substances. As a result, the landowners and the municipality lost about 12 million rubles ($ 158,000).

One case caused another one. The court believes that the suspect wanted to avoid administrative responsibility: he did not comply with an earlier court order to reclaim an illegal dump near the residential area and ordered his subordinates to bury these wastes in important agricultural lands. But the “trick” failed. Now the official can get a long term of imprisonment for abuse of authority. The maximum penalty under this article of Russia’s Criminal Code is imprisonment for up to seven years.

Obviously, nowadays people do not trust the government and businessmen. I think it happens because of the fact that people do not see many positive changes yet and believe that many ecological problems as always will be solved behind their backs.

That is why one of the most pressing and widely discussed topics nowadays is monitoring of hazardous industrial facilities, production and technical complexes and public discussion of its results.

Russian experts want to form a data bank on the basis of official information from the Ministry of Emergency Situations, the Russian Federal Service for Hydrometeorology, the Federal Service for Environmental, Technological and Nuclear Supervision, the Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resources, the Federal Service for Agricultural Supervision, prosecutor's office, arbitration courts and other monitoring, supervision and control bodies.

A project of this kind, in their opinion, could include collection of data from open sources, statistics, data structuring, analysis of realized risks of natural and man-made disasters in an open API database.

This practice works abroad. Databases of natural and man-made disasters are created in cooperation with various organizations and they already have many thousands of structured records. It is noted that the latest trend in the creating these databases is a consolidation of ecological, climatic and financial information in one database, including those based on the shared ledger technology.

- And can you cite some examples of governmental privileges that our eco-leaders have? In fact, you have to motivate business to be environmentally conscious not just by issuing nice declarations.

-Certainly you have to use both carrot and stick. Advanced environmentally conscious enterprises can enjoy an opportunity to get governmental privileges. In many regions there are local laws “on governmental support of investment, innovation and production”. These enterprises can have tax benefits. The rate of profit tax payable to the regional budget is reduced and investors do not pay the corporate property tax.

Undoubtedly, Russian society will no longer be indifferent to environmental problems. No matter how perfect and safe the equipment of enterprises is, all production processes should be controlled and environmental monitoring data should be available to the general public.

-Andrey, ecology is a very complex and acute topic. Sometimes there are some problems when you make journalists’ inquiries. And if someone wants to take the lead and control the process, does he have the right to do this?

-You do not have to obtain permission to get the information on the environment. There is a law "On environmental protection". It allows individuals and nonprofit organizations to exercise public environmental control. It states that everyone has the right to receive information about the state of the environment from the government and make some complaints and suggestions.

Also it is important to know that the information about the environment and pollution, and data on exceeding permissible levels of harmful concentrations cannot be a state or commercial secret.

I will remind our readers that firstly, the 42nd article of the Constitution of the Russian Federation states that "everyone shall have the right to favorable environment and reliable information about its status".

Secondly, Federal law of 10.01.2002 No. 7-FZ (with amendments of 31.12.2017) states that "everyone has the right to get reliable information about the state of the environment".

Thirdly, the 8th article of Federal law of 27.07.2006 No. 149-FZ (with amendments of 19.07.2018 "On information, information technologies and information protection" states that "access to information about the state of the environment cannot be restricted".

And finally, forth. The seventh article of Federal law of 21.07.1993 No.5485-1 (with amendments of 29.07.2018) states that "the information about the state of ecology, health care, sanitation, demography, education, culture, agriculture cannot be classified as state secret…"

If we want to change everything around us, we have to change ourselves…

In the photo: Andrey Zlobin, the head of the company "Right Not Left".

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