FACE TO FACE

Olga Timofeeva:

Everybody is concerned about the environment

The environment has become a very relevant topic in Russia. 2017 has been declared the Year of the Environment, and a Committee on Ecology and Environmental Protection for legislative regulation in this sphere has been formed in the seventh convocation of the State Duma. Concern for the environment is also becoming a trend among Russians. Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Ecology and Environmental Protection, co-chairman of the Central Staff of the All-Russia People's Front Olga Timofeeva talked to Capital Ideas about environmental protection in Russia and future plans in this sphere.

Ms. Timofeeva, a recent All-Russia Public Opinion Research Center poll showed that Russians are paying more attention to the environmental surroundings in their regions. Why do you think this subject has become more relevant?

For a long time, we payed little attention to the environment in Russia. Everybody knew it was important, but there was no concrete action. At one All-Russia People's Front forum, we asked the President to pay attention to the kind of air we breathe, the quality of the water we drink, and how dirty the regions are. As a result, 2017 was declared the Year of the Environment in Russia and we were able to get the public to pay attention to this issue.

In the seventh convocation of the State Duma, a committee on the environment was formed for the first time. We started to seriously address issues like waste management, harmful industrial emissions, and animal welfare. The committee did a lot of work over the course of the year.

Right now the environment really concerns everybody. Questions that people asked the President during a Direct Line Q&A in June of this year included questions about the garbage dump in Balashikha, the coal dust in the far eastern Nakhodka Port. You know that the dump was shut down immediately. Our committee also gets a lot of requests from citizens.

The long-awaited bill "On Responsible Treatment of Animals" really resonated with the public. Why wasn’t it adopted in the spring?

This bill really was very controversial. It has been in the Duma since 2010. Because our predecessors, deputies from previous convocations, were unable to to find a compromise, nothing ever happened with this bill. So we inherited it.

We essentially revived this bill and completely rewrote it. In six months the committee held about 30 working meetings with participants from all sides: animal welfare activists, owners of animal shelters, zoo directors, aquariums and circuses, famous animal trainers and cynologists. The discussion included representatives from the administration of the President, the Federation Council, and various federal and regional authorities. About 300 amendments were made in the second reading.

A lot of work was carried out. Right now the draft of the bill is almost complete. We are waiting for a roadmap from the government on the by-laws, which are necessary for the law to work properly. We need for the law to work, not sit on the shelf.

Does the committee plan to pass stricter laws on the protection of reserves and national parks?

Yes. The committee’s portfolio includes a bill that concerns specially protected natural areas, the use of their land, and the expansion of inspector powers. As you know, the State Duma recently passed a law “On Forest Amnesty” in order to deal with errors in the registry and the buildings already listed in forest areas. Our committee managed to ensure the exclusion of protected natural areas from the law. These areas will be dealt with on a case by case basis.

This year, the natural reserve system will be celebrating its 100-year anniversary. The first Barguzin Reserve was established in Baikal in 1917. Even though there are a lot of problems, we were able to preserve our unique nature, which is why Russia is considered the environmental donor of the world.

Do you think that the Russian economy has become “greener” over the past few years?

A lot of enterprises take care of the environment, investing billions of rubles into modernization projects, implementing corporate social responsibility programs and their own environmental projects.

But if you look at the metrics, there are no results yet. The air is really polluted in Chelyabinsk, Krasnoyarsk, and other industrial towns. Even in Moscow, in the southeast of the capital, the hydrogen sulfide levels occasionally surpass permissible standards. In the Far Eastern ports of Nakhodka and Vanino, people have trouble breathing because of coal dust. There is open transshippment of coal there. In order to really change things, it’s necessary to switch to modern technologies and increase control. By law, meters need to be installed on every pipe, every source of environmental pollution. This work has not began yet.

Do you make sure the laws that have already been passed are being enforced?

Of course. Without this it’s impossible to move forward. The law on the best accessible technologies, which I was just talking about, is under strict parliamentary control. We found out what the problem is, why it’s not working. We established contact with the General Prosecutor’s office and exchange information with them.

About 40 regulatory legal acts and methodologies have not been adopted by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Ecology. This means that laws are not implemented or are implemented inefficiently. For example, the issues of conducting public environmental expertise have not been finalized, the requirements for the report on industrial environmental control and waste disposal facilities have not been established. The procedure for reclamation of land was approved in 1994 and has not been updated for over 20 years.

The country is about to go through a so-called “trash reform.” What exactly does this mean?

It entails the introduction of a new procedure for handling waste. Previously, municipalities handled waste management. Now waste management systems have to be approved at the regional level, regional operators are selected, and utility tariffs for solid municipal waste are calculated. The reform will affect every citizen in the country. It will also affect many producers and importers of goods, because it introduces increased responsibility for the disposal of used goods and packaging. The goal is to establish a civilized system for the collection, sorting and processing of waste, especially waste that can be recycled: paper, plastic, rubber, scrap of non-ferrous metals, etc. If this system is established, commodity producers will be exempted from paying an environmental fee. If not, they will have to pay for eco-collection. These fees are being collected for the first time this year.

Do you support tougher sanctions for violating environmental laws?

Violations have to be punished with fines. If, for example, it became possible to confiscate auto transport, there would be fewer dump trucks violating laws. As it stands, we have 20,000 unauthorized dump sites in the country. Right now, the maximum fine you have to pay for breaking major environmental laws is 20,000 rubles. This is pennies for big business, and a lot of Federal Service for Supervision of Natural Resource Usage requirements are simply ignored.

The final Action Forum of the All-Russia People’s Front this fall will be dedicated to the environment. The President is expected to attend. What do you plan to talk to him about?

We’re going to prepare a report on environmental problems across all federal districts and offer a strategy for resolving them, report on work conducted within the scope of the Year of the Environment, and talk about our project called “Deep Cleaning. Dump Site Map.” In a year, we added a lot of environmental experts to the team, spotted gaps in legislation, and stopped dozens of violations. All of this will be in the report.

What are your goals for the future?

We want to make the environment a trendy topic, so that everybody cares about it. So that every single person thinks about what we drink, what we breathe, what we’re surrounded by, whether or not trash is collected. We want to engage the public and the expert community in solving these problems. We want to launch the kinds of mechanisms that will restore harmony between humanity and nature. The bills we’re introducing and considering are subject to extensive public discussion in parliamentary hearings, roundtables, forums, and in the media. We want for ideas to come to us from the ground up, for professionals from this sphere to let us know what’s missing from the legislation and which parts are outdated. We will try to include everybody as much as possible, since this subject concerns every single person.

We have defined our priorities: waste management, implementing advanced technologies in the manufacturing sector, specially protected natural areas and resorts that also need legal protection. We are also going to prepare a law on environmental information, which should be accessible to everybody.

 

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