The State Duma approved in third reading a bill that relaxes the requirements for the construction of infrastructure in national parks, sanctuaries and partly in nature reserves. In its final form, many controversial preparations disappeared from it, which caused justified fears in a significant part of MPs, public figures and environmental activists. The good news is that deforestation on the shores of Lake Baikal will still be possible only for the extension of the BAM and the Trans-Siberian Railway, the withdrawal of land from peripheral specially protected natural areas of regional importance is permitted only for the same purposes. of environmental impact remains mandatory for projects in federally protected areas. The bad news is that the possibility of building trunk pipelines, highways, railway infrastructure, and even some industrial enterprises in specially protected natural areas of federal importance without passing the state environmental review remains.
The draft law “On Amendments to the Planning Code of the Russian Federation and certain legislative acts of the Russian Federation (concerning the extension of the practice of construction of transport infrastructure to other types of infrastructure)” was submitted by the Russian government to the State Duma on March 25. The lengthy document, prepared in a record 10 days, required the introduction of minor, at first glance, amendments to 14 regulations. In fact, he suggested withdrawing sites from specially protected natural areas for the implementation of “priority projects for the modernization and expansion of infrastructure”, which, in addition, should not be subject to state environmental expertise.
An exhaustive list of such projects, according to the original version of the bill, had yet to be developed and approved by the Russian government. At the same time, it was already clear that it would definitely include highways with bridges, protective structures, related production facilities and road services, railway infrastructure, maritime and river ports, airports and transport hubs, as well as engineering communications and the like. facilities.necessary for their construction, repair and operation. All this has already been listed in the federal law “On the specifics of regulating certain relations with a view to modernizing and expanding the main infrastructure” – the practice of implementing it has been proposed to be extended. It was proposed to extend the existing list at least through central gas pipelines, oil pipelines and oil pipelines.
For all the above, it was proposed to occupy the areas of specially protected natural areas. That is, national parks, wildlife sanctuaries, arboreal parks and botanical gardens. In general, the developers of the bill did not touch only the nature reserves and even then on the condition that biospheric polygons can be created on their territory, where the placement of capital construction projects and related infrastructure is allowed. The proposal to deviate from the requirements of environmental legislation was explained by the need to ensure the sustainable operation of the construction industry in the current foreign policy and macroeconomic situation and the need to “implement a set of socio-economic measures in relation to citizens of the Russian Federation and Russian legal entities. In other words, the thoughts of preserving the economy in view of the sanctions. At the same time, neither in the explanatory note, nor in the explanations of the deputies who support the passage of the bill, there was no word on why they propose to do so at the expense of specially protected naturalists. Occupying only 14% of Russia’s territory, 240.2 million acres of which 34.5 million acres are natural reserves. State Duma, stressed that if the law is approved, the extraordinary provisions will be valid only temporarily – until 31 December 2024.
The reading of the bill on April 6, which took place on April 6, provoked strong reactions from environmental activists, public figures and MPs from the Young Peoples, Fair Russia and the factions of the Communist Party, who voted against its adoption. Among other things, Valery Fadeev, President of the Council under the President of the Russian Federation for the Development of Civil Society and Human Rights, appealed to the head of the State Legal Department of the Russian Federation, Larisa Brycheva, to refuse document in its original version. At that moment, assurances were already heard from Pakhomov that when finalized, the most controversial provisions would be ruled out. And on April 15, after the acceptance of the amendments for the second reading expired, the deputy speaker of the State Duma Sergei Neverov announced that “all ambiguous interpretations” had been removed. “No new licenses are introduced that are absent from the current legislation,” he assured. – All construction requirements are met, including environmental impact assessment. For those who may have thoughts of building something for themselves on the shores of Lake Baikal, we have set such a ban as a separate amendment.
Indeed, since the second reading the bill has changed significantly. The final version, which was approved on April 20 and then sent to the Federation Council for approval, differs from the original. First, the wording “priority infrastructure projects for the modernization and expansion of transport, industrial and other infrastructure” has disappeared. In contrast, main pipelines, social installations and industrial infrastructure facilities that are constructed or reconstructed for the purpose of creating, introducing and developing import substitution technologies, resource saving, environmentally friendly technologies, producing innovative and energy efficient building materials, and products have no Russian analogues.
The Central Ecological Zone of the Natural Territory of Baikal, which coincides with the boundaries of the UNESCO World Heritage Site, was indeed removed from the law. Relaxations within it still apply only to those facilities associated with the expansion of the Baikal-Amur and Trans-Siberian railways. Only to increase the capacity of the BAM and the Trans-Siberian, it is also possible to occupy areas of specially protected natural areas of regional importance. The requirement to pass an environmental review for projects involving construction in federally protected areas has been maintained. However, this does not apply to priority projects for the modernization and expansion of infrastructure. “Nevertheless, in this form, the bill threatens the unique system of protected areas and Baikal to a much lesser extent,” said Sergei Tsiplenkov, executive director of Greenpeace Russia, a member of the Council under the Russian President. Federation. for the development of civil society and human rights. – The Council has repeatedly supported the only system of protected areas in Russia. “The situation with this bill suggests that civil society is still able to influence the situation with protected areas and effectively oppose lobbyists for their development, regardless of the arguments behind them.”