Newsletter Commissioner for Human Rights in Poland 15 - 25 July 2019
Farms, slaughterhouses, waste landfills, scrap dumps, mobile telephone base stations, metal press plants and tanneries ... People will lose the right to vote even if such facilities are planned to be built 100 m from their land plots
- On 30 July 30, the Senate will be considering the bill on environmental protection, which is going to limit local communities’ right to decide about construction projects onerous for local communities
- The Senate Committee for environmental issues plans to debate the bill for 1.5 hours on Tuesday, 30 July, and the Senate may adopt the Act at its session in the same week.
- The bill concerns several dozen types of onerous construction project categories: from chicken or mink farms through landfills, tanneries, mobile telephony base stations or asbestos processing plants.
The Commissioner for Human Rights has raised been emphasizing the issue as such onerous projects in villages and on the outskirts of cities cause numerous problems. The regulations make it possible for local residents to express their opinions, but are at the same time complex and require people to get well organized and take joint action.
People who come to meetings with the CHR complain of bad smells and air chemical pollution that can occur even within a radius of few kilometres, of large numbers of flies and rodents caused by the presence of waste, of noise, negative impact on the environment as well as of illnesses of which people suffer.
What types of construction projects can those be? Below are 20 examples:
The full list of construction projects which are to become easier to implement as a result of the new legislation considered by the Parliament is included in the Regulation of the Council of Ministers of 9 November 2010 on projects that may have a significant impact on the environment (Journal of Laws of 2016, item 71). The list has 12 pages and a table for converting numbers of breeding animals of individual species into so-called livestock large units (according to the regulation, a farm for 40 livestock large units is one that has 40 cows, 300 pigs, 10 thousand chickens, 40 thousand chinchillas or 133 thousand quails).
The regulation specifies among others:
1. animal breeding farms and animal slaughter facilities
2. animal carcasses burial sites
3. sawmills and carpentry plants with timber preservation installations
4. landfills and metal scrap dumps
5. mobile telephony base stations
6. installations for producing starch, fish oil or fishmeal;
7. installations for the packaging and canning of plant or animal products;
8. sugar factories, breweries and distilleries
9. asbestos processing plants, cement plants, concrete and bituminous masses
10.metal press shops, testing stations for engines, turbines and reactors
12. smelting installations, mineral fibre production installations
13. chemical substances processing installations
14. wind power plants and farms
15. gas pumping stations, mines, metal processing plants, coking plants
16. oil and petroleum pipelines and storage tanks
17. railways, roads and airports
18.river dams , water distribution and treatment installations
19. ski trails and lifts, water-ski lifts,
20. large shopping centres
Why is the participation in the decision-making processes of key importance for local residents?
It should be remembered that according to the regulations, the environmental impact assessment of a given construction project is to be provided by the investor. According to such assessments, however, the project’s impact is limited only to the site’s borders. However, noise or odours go beyond such borders. Poland has standards on the protection against noise but against odours (the fight for introducing such standards has been ongoing for ten years). Despite their promises, the subsequent governments have not adopted them, and there are no regulations on how to measure e.g. the impact of an animal breeding farm. Odours from such farms have nothing to do with “traditional” village smells. Often the smells are so bad that it is impossible to open windows or spend time outdoors within a radius of many kilometres of the farm.
The environmental inspection authority is not able to supervise such projects now as the authority’s reform, commenced a year ago, has not yet ended.
Consequently, the fight against onerous construction projects built in the past, in accordance with the applicable regulations and permits, is very difficult. It is therefore of key importance for local residents to have the possibility to get information on the planned projects, on their actual impact on the environment, scale, and individual construction stages. There should also be information on the procedures of issuing related decisions and presenting a rationale for them. Quite often, local governments focus on the expected economic benefits, and pay less attention to the impact on the local community and the environment. Meanwhile, the hastily preceded Act, adopted by the Sejm on 19 July, limited local communities’ right to participate in the proceedings regarding construction projects that impact the environment. This is going to translate into a lower legal protection of people who live in the vicinity of construction projects for which environmental protection-related procedures have to be carried out.
As a result of the planned changes:
- It will be more difficult for local residents to find out about the progress of proceedings concerning a given construction project. If there are more than 10 entities involved in the proceedings, there will be no "personalized" correspondence, including copies of decisions sent to individuals. Information will have to be sought from public announcements or Public Information Bulletins. This is a result of the reduction - from 20 to 10 – of the number of parties to the proceedings to whom it is possible to apply Article 49 of the Code of Administrative Procedure. This arises from the new wording of Article 74 (3) of the Act.
- At the same time, fewer residents will have the right to take steps with the aim to eliminate problems to be generated by such construction projects. The Act reduces the size of the area considered to be impacted by such projects (the area impacted by onerous construction projects will be limited to the one within the 100 m radius of the anticipated project site, as indicated in Article 74 (3)(a) of the Act). This may mean that in certain cases even the owner of a house built on a plot adjacent to the one where a pig breeding farm, a chicken farm or a waste landfill is planned to be built will not have the right to participate in the related permit issuing proceedings.
- Those who will have the right to take steps but will not do so within a specific time limit because of, for example, learning about the problem on a too late date, will lose the right to apply for resuming the proceedings (persons and institutions who have not taken part in the proceedings because of a reason on their side, even those who have had such a right, would not be able to apply for the resumption of the proceedings, according to the new points 3(b) through 3(e) of Article 74;
- The right to participate in the proceedings will be lost by persons who are residents of a given city/town/village but their data is not included in the land and mortgage register (the new Act excludes from participation in the proceedings those property owners whose names are not indicated in the land and mortgage registers or other relevant registers – see points 3(f) and 3(h) of Article 74 in conjunction with the regulations on the renewal of proceedings).