ATHENS — Greek lawmakers approved a controversial environmental bill Tuesday that the opposition and environmental groups slammed for opening the door to exploratory oil and gas drilling in protected areas.
Lawmakers voted 158 -56 for the bill, with 214 of parliament's 300 members voting. Most cast their ballots by mail due to social distancing measures that limit the number of people in the plenary hall.
The center-right government has argued the proposed legislation, which covers a wide array of subjects in its 130 articles, will help protect the environment while also ensuring sustainable development and help Greece end its dependency on coal.
The bill passed on the strength of the ruling New Democracy party (158), while 56 MPs of the opposition voted it down.
Main opposition Syriza walked out before the voting began, while there were roll-call votes for certain sections called by Movement for Change (KINAL) and the Communist Party (KKE). KINAL's request related to a number of individual articles, while KKE wanted a roll-call vote for the first round (in principle).
A total of 141 MPs voted remotely, in observance of Covid-19 restriction measures that prevented a physical presence of the full plenary, which prompted the walkout by Syriza.
"The new environmental regulations finally set clear rules for (environmental) protection, but at the same time they are the drivers behind a quick and, above all, sustainable development," Prime Minister Kyriakos Mitsotakis said in his speech, adding that much of the criticism directed at the government was unjustified.
On the eve of the vote, Greenpeace and the World Wildlife Fund said they had collected 30,000 signatures in an online petition against the legislation, which they say will remove vital safeguards for environmental protection.
"Beyond the drilling, this legislation is deeply problematic in many areas, as has already been established by dozens of agencies and organizations," WWF Greece head Demetris Karavellas said in a statement Monday. "A government that respected scientists' positions on the issue of the coronavirus now appears to ignore them in this crucial legislation."