25 July 2002
Maha Al-Azar Daily Star
Polluters and developers now have to answer to the Code of the Environment, which was finally passed five years after it was referred to Parliament. Environment Minister Michel Musa made the announcement during a news conference held Wednesday at the ministry in Antelias, calling the achievement a “historic landmark” and a “national accomplishment.”
Developers could face up to one year in prison and a maximum fine of LL 200 million for carrying out a project without first conducting an environmental impact assessment a scientific study that pinpoints a project’s positive and negative impacts on the surrounding human and natural environments. The penalty could be doubled if the perpetrator has a previous similar violation on his record.
Moreover, fines against anyone polluting the environment with hazardous substances or harmful waste were increased from LL10 million to LL 100 million. These fines would help inject money into an independent fund for the environment to be set up, as prescribed by the code.
Musa listed the principles in which the law is grounded: the polluter pays, environmental protection at the core of the Lebanese system, prevention, imposing environmental impact assessments and the citizen’s right to know. Greenpeace’s Lebanon campaigner Zeina Hajj “welcomed” the passage of the law but could only offer first impressions, as she was still examining the legislation.
“Of course it is a very positive step that we finally have the Code of the Environment,” Hajj said. “But the fact that NGOs were not granted the right to file lawsuits is in itself a negative point.” Nongovernmental organizations had been lobbying MPs to grant them the right to file lawsuits on behalf of the public good against environmental polluters or criminals.
But Parliament would not give them this right, which was restricted to the person or company that directly stands to lose from the environmental pollution. Alternatively, a public prosecutor could also pursue an environmental polluter, but environmental NGOs argue they are best prepared and equipped to pursue such matters.
Hajj also did “not have high hopes” about the prospect of implementing the new law “based on past experience.” “But now that this code exists, people can push for its implementation,” she added.
Green Line President Ali Darwish also had not had the chance to fully examine the new law. “But if it turns out to be only a compilation of existing laws that are not being implemented anyway, then it’s worth nothing,” he warned.
Musa explained that the law consists of seven sections and 68 articles that deal with general rules, penalties, creating environmental databases and imposing environmental impact assessments, protecting the air, water, soil and coast. Among the most important inclusions in the law were penalties on polluters and incentives for industrialists and businesses employing environmentally friendly methods in their work, Musa said. Incentives could reach 50 percent tax reductions “for everyone who employs environmentally friendly equipment and technology.”
Musa said he was satisfied the code had clarified the mechanism by which ministries could coordinate their efforts for environmental protection. The code also called for the creation of the Higher Environmental Council, a 14-member body consisting of public and private sector representatives that would be responsible for setting environmental policy priorities, assessing the results of environmental activities, coordinating efforts between government institutions and making recommendations for new laws and amendments.