ATHENS – Environment and Energy Minister Kostis Hatzidakis defended the environmental legislation passed by parliament the previous week, in statements to the Athens-Macedonian News Agency (ANA) on Saturday, dismissing opposition criticism of his bill as "unfair" and "spiteful".
"The unfair criticism will be forgotten and what will remain is an important European environmental reform," he said, especially as regards the activities permitted in protected NATURA areas, which he noted were not new but were permitted both in Greece and other European Union countries. With respect to mining in Natura areas, Hatzidakis put opposition criticism down to "spite" and noted that the other side had also permitted this activity "without the new, clearcut and transparent framework we are introducing".
He defended measures such as the speeding up of the procedure for environmental permits, noting that thousands had been held "in limbo", and on serious environmental issues, such as waste management on the islands.
The new legislation brings changes with respect to environmental permits, investments in renewable energy sources, protected areas, objections to the forest maps, the treatment of construction waste and sewage, as well as waste management on the islands and levies for plastic bags.
In terms of environmental licences, the bill requires the state to either approve or refuse environmental permits but not to delay their issue, with a permit considered to be automatically approved if there is no reply within a deadline set by law, barring some exceptions. It also extends the duration of permits from 10 to 15 years, or 21 years for activities with EMAS certification. The new law aims to cut down the maximum time needed to get an environmental permit to a few months (150 days) instead of the present six-eight years.
The bill also seeks to speed up permits for RES investments and creates a single overall body – the Organisation for the Natural Environment and Climate Change – for the management of environmentally protected areas, as well as permitting "low-impact" economic activities in these areas that will raise revenues for their management and protection.
On single-use plastic bags, the fee charged will be extended to all types of plastic bag, thus ending "loopholes" under the previous law, while the law also ends the use of septic tanks in Attica and other areas.