Duarte Cordeiro is the current minister for the environment. He has defended Simplex Ambiental' saying:
Duarte Cordeiro is the current minister for the environment. He has defended Simplex Ambiental' saying: "eliminating double controls does not unprotect the environment. It helps protect the environment" Photo: Tiago Petinga

PS Socialists’ environmental ‘Simplex’ hints at ‘worrying hidden agenda’

NGOs claim “reduction of protections” in new legislation favours economic operators

The PAS platform for sustainable water, made up of a wide-ranging group of NGOs (see below) is mobilising against the government’s ‘Simplex Ambiental’ (Environmental Simplex) – a set of new rules ostensibly designed to make the licensing of projects much easier (more simple), while ensuring protection of the environment.

According to the group, Simplex Ambiental does part of what it has set out to achieve: it has made the licensing of projects a great deal easier – but as to ensuring protection of the environment, no, there is really none of that. PAS is convinced that Simplex Ambiental will result in quite the opposite.

Hence the “organising of diligences to succeed in annulment” of this legislation.

These diligences will take the shape of a formal complaint to European entities.

Says the group: “The reduction of requirements regarding the protection of the environment with the subsequent simplification of administrative procedures will lead to the favouring of economic operators without the necessary caution and protection of a common good, the environment and territory.

“The laudable concern to make the licensing process more accessible, faster and less expensive is felt by many Portuguese, and by many environmental organisations, to be necessary and urgent. But one cannot confuse – and much less replace – the efficiency of processes only by the speed of deciding these same processes.

“We are facing a backward step in citizens’ Environmental Law, disrespect for national legislation and violation of Community and International Law”.

Among various situations listed by PAS, is the alteration of the current legal framework for environmental impact assessment, allowing for ‘tacit approval’ when, for example, deadlines have not been met.

As PAS stresses, “the value or validity of an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) can never be measured by the TIME vector, but rather by the by the RIGOUR of the assessment of the project in question”.

Another issue is that the law excludes “diverse industrial projects” such as surface natural gas storage, and projects by pulp, food, textile, tanning, wood and rubber industries, from the requirement of seeking environmental impact assessments.

All these industries “can cause irreversible impacts with cumulative effects” on the areas in which they operate.

“Eliminating an EIA can only mean a serious and worrying hidden agenda”, says PAS.

Mentioning the fact that no environmental licence will need revalidation after 10 years (“with the result that any change, for example in pollution levels of liquid or gaseous effluents with an impact on the health of the affected populations, will no longer be subject to any supervision”), the platform claims that much of the legislation already approved by President Marcelo contradicts EU law.

In short, the government’s ‘Simplex ambiental’ “compromises and does not ensure the protection of nature, biodiversity and responsible, sustainable development”.

Compounding this failing is the fact that faced as Portugal is (particularly in the south) with systemic drought, Simplex ambiental actually reduces “control and supervision over a common good essential to our survival”.

“Where will we end up,” queries the platform.

This is “a very serious attack on Environmental Law and Territorial Planning”. It represents the “unprotection of the environment in the face of powerful economic interests”.

And so, once again, Portugal’s environmental NGOs are preparing to ride into battle to protect the interests of people who actually voted for the politicians who devised these laws.

The PAS-Sustainable Water platform is made up of: A Rocha Portugal, Água é Vida, Almargem-Associação de Defesa do Património Cultural e Ambiental do Algarve, CIVIS–Associação para o Aprofundamento da Cidadania, Ecotopia-Associação Ambiental e de Desenvolvimento Sustentável, FALA-Fórum do Ambiente do Litoral  Alentejano, Faro 1540–Associação de Defesa e Promoção do Património Ambiental e Cultural de Faro, Glocal Faro, LPNLiga para a Protecção da Natureza, a Probaal-Associação para o Barrocal Algarvio, Quercus–Associação Nacional de Conservação da Natureza and Regenerarte, the association that has been battling against the proliferation of avocado plantations in and around Barão de São João.

The majority of these NGOs are based in the Algarve.

“Public administration is not irresponsible”

Challenged in parliament last month by opposition parties who share PAS’ opinions on the new legislation, minister for the environment Duarte Cordeiro insisted that in the event of granting “tacit approval” “public administration is not irresponsible”.

In retrospect, with revelations coming from the inquiry into the ‘management’ of State-owned airlineTAP, this statement could be seen as laughable.

Mr Cordeiro told the house that “no longer requiring EIAs for certain solar energy projects means making it easier to produce energy from the sun and that favours the environment”.

[email protected]