Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Russia’s Environmental Protection Laws Violated 178,000 Times in First Half of 2016

Paul Goble

            Staunton, November 8 – In an indication that Russians and the Russian authorities do not place a high value on defending the environment, officials say that the country’s relatively weak environmental protection laws were violated at least 178,000 times in the first six months of this year and that at least a third of these did not result in any charges.

            In a commentary for “Gazeta,” journalist Karina Rasulova argues that “judging by these statistics” which were assembled by the Procuracy General, “ecology obviously is not one of the priority directions in the work of Russian officials, despite the fact that next year will be the Year of Ecology in Russia” (gazeta.ru/social/2016/11/02/10301483.shtml#page4).

            The selection of statistics she provides is truly horrifying: During the first half of 2016, Russian firms and individuals illegally cut down more than 8,300 square kilometers of forest, an area three times greater than that of the city of Moscow, and Russian firms put “billions of tons” of untreated toxic waste into the air or water supply.

            What is worse is that on all available measures, the situation has been deteriorating rather than getting better, Rasulova continues. Environmental contamination by industry in violation of the law can only be measured in billions of tons each year: In the Urals, for example, it is now running at the rate of approximately 11 billion tons a year.

            And prosecutors found that the law enforcement agencies charged with enforcing the law either ignored their responsibilities entirely or treated violators in the gentlest way, returning their guns and equipment rather than confiscating them as the law requires. For example, of the 25,000 trucks used by illegal operators in the forests in 2015-2016, only 75 were confiscated.

            “The quality of procedural checking and investigation of criminal cases does not correspond to the demands of the law,” the prosecutor general’s investigation found.  It noted that in 2015, prosecutors in just four federal districts refused to bring charges even when presented with evidence in 5,000 cases.

            As the economy has deteriorated, officials say, this pattern has only intensified. Alekssey Yaaroshenko, head of the forestry section of Greenpeace Russia, says that is only part of the explanation. “A low interest in enforcing ecology laws is not a new trend.”  Instead, officials overlook violations if the economic results are acceptable.

            Moreover, the ecologist says, the situation is getting worse: “the new forestry codex of 2006 is the most unprofessional law governing state administration of the forests for the last 300 years.”  At present, he says, the situation is more disordered than it was “even after the revolution and the Great Fatherland War.”

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