Will it be possible to build near Baikal?

At the end of March 2022, the government submitted to the State Duma a bill for construction in specially protected natural areas (SPNA). Its first edition required the possibility of construction in nature reserves, sanctuaries and national parks without environmental impact assessment. This caused a stir: Greenpeace urged comments on the bill to the State Duma’s Ecology Committee, which opposed the bill. On April 20, the State Duma passed the law in third reading, but with significant amendments. “Cold” says how the project has changed and what it is now.

How did the bill pass in first reading?

The bill included amendments to the Town Planning Code, laws on environmental expertise, the protection of Lake Baikal and other acts. It allowed, until December 31, 2024, the construction of objects “modernization and expansion of transport, industrial and other infrastructure” in specially protected natural areas without conducting a state environmental review. That is, stocks, including the Lake Baikal area, were actually allowed to cut down forests and build anything – the list of items was endless.

The government explained the need for this law by increasing “the stability of the construction industry in relation to the macroeconomic and foreign policy situation”. Some committees of the State Duma criticized this initiative. The Committee on the Environment has concluded that “most specially protected natural areas will be severely affected by industrial activities, the damage of which will be irreparable”. And the Committee on Agricultural Affairs did not agree with the provision that the construction would not require approval from the Federal Fisheries Service, the Ministry of Agriculture, the Ministry of Natural Resources and the regional authorities.

What changed in the second reading?

  • Environmental impact assessment remains mandatory for construction in specially protected natural areas, but with one exception: for major infrastructure, such as roads, it will not be needed.
  • The wording “and other infrastructure” was removed from the bill, which made the list of possible construction objects unclear. Instead, construction was limited to “priority projects” implemented in line with Russia’s socio-economic and spatial development strategies, as well as infrastructure.

The list of such items is clearly defined. It already included roads and railways, ports and airports, but the amendments adopted at second reading were added to it:

  1. main gas pipelines, oil pipelines, oil pipelines and other main facilities, the construction of which is carried out in accordance with a comprehensive plan for the modernization and expansion of the main infrastructure;
  1. social infrastructure, ie schools, hospitals, clinics – if there is a lack of such facilities in the area and their construction is financed from the budget or at the expense of companies in which the state holds at least 50% of the approved capital?
  1. industrial facilities built for the “introduction and development of import substitution technologies, resource saving, environmentally friendly, production of products that have no Russian analogues, production of innovative, energy efficient building materials”.
  • At the same time, according to the amendments, the construction of social and industrial facilities in agricultural areas, reclaimed areas (ie in those whose properties are improved with irrigation, sewerage and other projects), as well as in protected areas is prohibited. forests and specially protected natural areas.
  • Only items needed to increase the capacity of the Baikal-Amur and Trans-Siberian railways can be built in Baikal. In fact, this amendment unifies an existing provision: such an exception was introduced in the federal law for the protection of Lake Baikal in 2020.

What will happen after the law enters into force?

According to Greenpeace’s expert on specially protected natural areas, Mikhail Kreindlin, with the passage of the law, the situation will become “no worse than it was”. “The ban on the construction of industrial facilities in specially protected areas (SPNA) is even stricter than before. “Previously, there was no direct ban in the law,” Kreindlin told Kholod. At the same time, he clarifies that this provision mainly covers protected areas of federal importance, such as nature reserves and national parks. Peripheral protected areas may belong to different categories of land, for example, forest fund or settlements. In this case, the construction will be regulated by their status.

“The problem with the law is that the main facilities do not require state environmental expertise. “According to them, there is no environmental review even in federally protected areas, if they are legally built there,” Kreindlin explains. He suggests that some dangerous projects, such as the construction of the Power of Siberia 2 gas pipeline through the Tunkinsky National Park, be carried out without environmental expertise. The gas pipeline will cut the park in half and its construction will lead to deforestation and change of animal habitats.

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