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The text of the future Environmental Assessment Law approved


The Government intends to restate the principles applicable to strategic  assessment and environmental impact assessment. Last April 27, the Council of Ministers  went one step further by  approving  the draft Environmental Assessment Act.

The proposal was presented by the Ministry of Agriculture, Foodstuffs and Environment. According to governmental sources, the proposal is intended to "rectify the shortcomings of the current model", by pursuing two main objectives. On the one hand, the evaluation is applied to projects that entail significant impacts. On the other hand, the evaluation of initiatives having a lower environmental impact will be completed more rapidly and in a less costly manner. In such regard, the draft establishes a maximum period of six months for processing applications; in particular, in the area of environmental impact assessment.

Administrative silence will not be regarded as an implied approval. The future act clearly indicates that lack of timely action on the part of the relevant Environmental Agency shall in no case be construed to imply  that a favorable environmental assessment shall exist.

The new criteria will apply within the scope of the General State Administration, while the Autonomous regions that may decide to approve their own set of regulations, will be bound to respect the basic principles contained in the forthcoming law.

The future law adapts to the new industrial models. In this regard, it is worth mentioning that the new Law shall apply to all projects that require the use of hydraulic fracturing, (known as “fracking”) for the extraction of hydrocarbons.

However, several environmental groups have shown their opposition to the draft Law and call for its revision even before it is approved, since, in their opinion, the new regulations will reduce almost all environmental guarantees currently existing in the process of evaluation of environmental projects.

Against this position, the Ministry argues  that the text “strictly” follows EU environmental guidelines, because it takes into account changes in environmental regulations that Europe is processing today.

Another new aspect of the draft Law  is that the review process shall include the assessment of the effects that projects will have on climate change. In addition, it creates "banks of nature conservation", defined as "a new market instrument" allegedly intended to set off, redress or restore the possible net losses of natural values but blamed for contributing to create "a market of natural assets” that will apply the rules of supply and demand to biodiversity, an overall principle that is alien to market rules.

The measures allow to compensate environmental conditions in a different place, i.e., by allowing to compensate the destruction of a forest caused by the construction of a highway by re-populating elsewhere, a principle that can result in the approval of extremely damaging projects.

The contents of Article 13 of the draft law, ruling that the evaluation of environmental impact (EIA) of a project cannot be contradictory with the integrated environmental assessment is regarded as being particularly damaging. Such principle would lead to conclude that in the event that a “megaproject” such as the Spanish Strategic Plan for Infrastructures and Transportation is granted a general favorable strategic evaluation, neither of the different intermediate projects encompassed by such plan (from different sources and with different scopes) can receive a negative assessment, a principle that seems to make little sense.

A similarly unfavorable evaluation receives the large number of projects that would now be subject to simplified environmental assessment.


A growing trend of opinion considers that the de-regulation steps being taken by the ruling Popular Party put at serious risk the progress made in the field of environmental protection in the last thirty years.

Noteworthy among the most worrying new Government actions are the support to the oil and nuclear industries and the dramatic setback suffered by renewable energies (recently deprived of all subsidies), an economic sector where Spain proved to be strong and innovative around the world, while the sector is  extremely beneficial to the environment.

Another example of the clearly “deregulatory” attitude of the current Government stems from the contents of the draft Coastal Act, which has been populated by a series of exceptions and caveats that will make it possible to legalize buildings constructed on the public domain as well as new urban developments on the coast, with the aggravating circumstance that beaches and coastal landscapes are one of the main tourist attractions in Spain.

It is also seen with high concern that the Government intends to "relax" the laws preventing the urban development of land affected by forest fires, thus threatening to bring deregulation also to one of the legislative pillars of sustainability: the environmental impact assessment of projects, plans and programs, on the grounds that such actions could prevent economic development.

All in all, such policies would mean a step back in an environmental framework  that costed many years to implement and may now be in danger for reasons that have so far been poorly explained by the Government.


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