Image: Bruno Filipe Pires/ Open Media

Over 30 associations and citizens’ movements demand repeal of “Environmental Simplex”

“We cannot accept economic interests overriding ecological integrity”

Over 30 associations and citizens’ movements are demanding a repeal of the outgoing government’s ‘environmental Simplex’ law.

In place since March this year, the law sets out to simplify administrative procedures for obtaining environmental authorisations and licenses – the idea being that when/ if a project is of ‘national importance’, it can dispense with the usual formalities, including ‘environmental impact studies’, etc., in order to speed things up.

The problem with this thinking is that it bypasses many steps enshrined in European law – particularly that of the need for public participation (Aarhus Convention).

Earlier this month, in a speech to the nation that left pundits ‘open mouthed, the prime minister stressed that the suspected ‘trafficking of influences’ in major projects was simply ‘the way governments do business’; important business. The PM actually suggested: “Simplification creates transparency; bureaucracy harbours opacity”. 

It is an approach that has led to the drawing up of a new manifesto, demanding the repeal of SIMPLEX ambiental (environmental Simplex), on the basis that it “makes a mockery of the fundamental values that environmental policy and the environmental impact assessment instrument aim to protect”, as well as “disregarding national and European legislation in this area and violating EU and international law”.

Dubbing the law “(pseudo-)Environmental SIMPLEX”, the undersigned (33 associations and movements) suggest it treats the environment “as an obstacle to the economy.  

“We believe that this law, although it contains some positive aspects, does nothing to solve the structural problems that hinder faster and more transparent processes, limiting itself to excessively shortening deadlines and excluding assessments, and/ or eliminating verification processes, without adequate scientific foundation, and without the necessary weighing of all the interests and dangers at stake. 

Rather than reducing bureaucracy, it promotes a lack of responsibility towards the collective interest, nature protection, biodiversity, citizen participation and sustainable development”.

The manifesto goes into some of the ‘absolutely unacceptable risks’ at length, referring in passing to the EIA exemption on solar projects of 100 hectares or less that pose “cumulative negative environmental impacts on populations, who have opposed several of these projects”, as well as to the general “devaluing of participation” by entities and verifiers in matters environmental.

One of the many ‘absolutely unacceptable risks’ refers to the “increasing vulnerability of water resources by allowing the abusive use of water in urban areas”.

The law equally “does not add monitoring mechanisms or platforms/tools that allow citizens to access information on project licensing processes (public and private), or to assess environmental impacts, particularly cumulative impacts.

“This attempt to streamline permits and procedures and shorten administrative deadlines removes incentives to develop good projects that minimise environmental impacts, without actually significantly reducing the length of the processes.

“The EIA is an important and unique tool for weighing up the environmental impacts of a project in its preliminary phase and, consequently, improving its design and defining mitigation measures. The response to administrative difficulties and delays should not be to eliminate this essential stage, but rather to strengthen the resources, whether human, technical or financial, allocated to the various organisations responsible. 

“In addition, the EIA is a privileged moment for public participation, seeking more transparency in decision-making and more social acceptance in the implementation of projects. 

In short, “the Environmental (pseudo-)SIMPLEX deprives citizens and interested parties of the possibility of participating in the decision-making process, something that has been assumed for decades in democratic countries as the basis of good governance practices”. It “jeopardises the precautionary principle and participation and, consequently, the safeguarding of the common interest and ecological integrity for future generations. 

“We cannot accept present economic interests prevailing at the expense of the future of Biodiversity, Communities and the Planet. We call for the repeal of this Law!” ends the manifesto, that has been echoed today by Portugal’s only MP for PAN, the People, Animals and Nature party.

In an interview with Correio da Manhã, PAN’s Inês Sousa Real insists “we cannot reformulate Justice according to the level of political interests”, adding that PAN has always been against what she called an “environmental fast track”.

Signatories to the manifesto include PAS (the sustainable water platform), A Rocha, ZERO, SPEA, GEOTA, FAPAS, Almargem, LPN, Probaal (the Algarve group that only recently won a major battle against a massive solar farm), Quercus, Regenerate (a group also in the Algarve, fighting large water intensive avocado plantations), Glocal Faro and CIVIS (the association for the deeping of citizenship).

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