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Monday, November 28, 2022

Environmental Organisations Slam The Government’s Draft Law: Lowering Environmental Standards Is Not An Appropriate Response!

By: Sara Bertoncelj / Nova24tv

A few days ago, the Ministry of Infrastructure submitted for inter-ministerial coordination a draft law on measures to manage energy supply crises. In the event of an identified risk to energy supply, the draft law provides, among other things, measures to reduce gas and electricity consumption and secure supplies, as well as a state guarantee for the purchase of gas from outside the European Union. The draft law also provides for, among other things, the lowering of environmental standards in a crisis situation. “We believe that this is an inappropriate and unambitious response, which is in no way sustainable,” said the green party Vesna, while the non-governmental organisation the Balkan River Defence believes that the government under the leadership of Robert Golob is extremely disorganised and is now dealing with a situation for which they themselves are responsible because of their slow response to international developments on the energy market.

The Ministry of Infrastructure has submitted for inter-ministerial coordination a draft law on measures to tackle the crisis in the energy supply sector. The draft law provides, among other things, for the lowering of environmental standards in crisis situations. Specifically, when a crisis situation (higher risk levels) occurs, the provisions of the environmental permits concerning fuel and emission limits will not apply to the operation of power plants and cogeneration plants and other installations for which an environmental permit is required. The provisions of the environmental permits will be waived as long as the alarm levels for sulphur dioxide, or nitrogen dioxide in the air are not predicted to be exceeded or have already been exceeded. The maximum permissible temperature of the Sava River below the Krško Nuclear Power Plant may also be increased by 0.5 degrees.

Before the elections, they said they would introduce green politics, but instead, a concrete tightening is coming
The new government’s action is all the more surprising given that Prime Minister Robert Golob announced before the elections that his government would engage in green and sustainable policy but is now actually going in a completely different direction. The Vesna party explained that lowering standards and emission limits is a typical “easy” answer to a difficult question. “We believe it is an inappropriate and unambitious response that is in no way sustainable,” they stressed, adding that Vesna sees no urgency in the government’s response to the crisis situation related to the risks of sufficient energy production in the coming winter. They stressed that financial aid and price regulation are necessary but by no means sufficient measures if we really want to reduce energy dependency on countries with undemocratic systems.

After the upcoming winter, there will be another winter, for which the current measures will no longer be enough, and in the meantime, we as a country will go into debt without any real solutions in mind. The European Union has set up the EU RePower financial mechanism with hundreds of billions of euros for upgrading electricity grids. “However, we are not sure if we as a country are even prepared to use all of these measures,” they expressed their doubts, explaining that the Vesna party has been advocating the following solution for a while now: one million Slovenian roofs should become solar roofs. A second reactor in Krško or new gas power plants (with gas from Qatar or Algeria), or even waste incinerators, will not solve our energy needs, the Vesna party added. There is only one solution to climate change adaptation, they say: tougher environmental and climate action and strong investments in a green future. “However, lowering environmental standards has so far proved that these new standards ‘catch on quickly,’ and any subsequent increase is difficult,” they stressed.

We are letting the fox guard our chickens, as the current government has a number of well-situated representatives of the energy lobby in it
Rok Rozman
of the Balkan River Defence NGO believes that current environmental standards are, in many cases, inadequate, in the sense that they are too soft and allow for workarounds, and that monitoring for compliance is poor in many cases. He believes that lowering environmental standards puts much of the environment, nature and, consequently, people at risk. When asked whether he considers the government’s action on environmental standards to be proportionate to the disruption of energy supplies, he replied: “No. The government under the leadership of Robert Golob is extremely disorganised and is now dealing with a situation for which they themselves are responsible, due to the slow response to international developments in the energy market, by taking extreme measures such as non-compliance with the provisions of environmental permits for power and heating plants. It is one thing to deliberately and progressively restrict energy consumption (where it is not necessary), which makes sense and is to be welcomed, but it is quite another to change the operating conditions of production plans.”

In Rozman’s opinion, the problem also lies in the fact that the government (or its expert services) will probably be the one responsible for declaring a state of emergency. In other words, we are letting the fox guard the hens, as there are several well-situated representatives of the energy lobby in the current government. In terms of protecting nature and the environment, and rivers, in particular, we have gone from bad to worse with the new government – as expected, he added.

The proposed law will bring Slovenia further away from many binding agreements and, above all, from common sense and good governance
Of course, there is also the important question of how long we could persist with lower environmental standards before irreversible environmental consequences would occur. Balkan River Defence believes that in some cases, non-compliance or lowering of environmental standards could lead to irreversible environmental consequences extremely quickly. While the law only provides for changes in emission limits and fuel use, this may soon be extended or generalised. “An example from our field could be the non-compliance with minimum biological flows under hydropower plants: if the riverbed under a hydropower plant dries out for just one hour, this can mean the complete death of all aquatic organisms, which is an irreversible consequence for nature and the environment in exchange for a few megawatt hours, which is in no way disproportionate and does not solve the problem of the electricity supply, as things could have been solved in time by other means,” Rozman explained, pointing out that on the other side of the scales, there is the possibility of a winter without heating, which no one wants and which we will all try to avoid, but the opportunity for a mature and effective solution to this conundrum has already passed due to the unresponsiveness of those in charge. “Now, it seems, we are in a very tight spot. On top of that, there is also a significant likelihood of the law being circumvented once the crisis is over,” he warned. Rozman believes that the proposed law distances Slovenia from many binding agreements and, above all, from common sense and good governance.

According to the draft, on which the Ministry expects comments by the 26th of September, the government will be able to declare a higher or lower level of energy supply risk in the event of actual or foreseen disruptions to electricity and gas supplies. A lower risk level will mean preparing for an energy crisis and, inter alia, informing energy companies and consumers to prepare for a crisis and to take possible measures. A higher risk level will mean an energy crisis, as a natural gas emergency and an electricity crisis will have already been declared, which will require the use of the full national potential for electricity and heat generation. The government will be able to directly order state-owned companies to implement energy security measures. During the declared higher risk level, the fuel switching provisions of the environmental permits will not apply to the operation of power plants, cogeneration plants and other plants requiring an environmental permit. The provisions of the environmental permits will be waived as long as the alarm levels for sulphur dioxide, or nitrogen dioxide in the air are not predicted to be exceeded or have already been exceeded, according to the reports of the Slovenian Press Agency. The draft also foresees the final consumers would aim to reduce their gas and electricity consumption in the period from the 1st of October 2022 to the 31st of March 2023 by at least 15 percent compared to their average gas consumption in the period from the 1st of October to the 31st of March over the previous five years.

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