On 1 January 2012, new environmental legislation comes into force, covering:
- the identification of environmental loads
- determining who is responsible for the load
- the ministries with authority for environmental loads
- the powers of public authorities over environmental loads
- liability for breach
According to estimates and preliminary studies, there are approximately 30,000 potential sources of pollution in Slovakia. A systematic inventory of environmental loads revealed that 1,845 locations pose a serious threat to human health and the environment. The list of environmental 'time bombs' includes:
- industrial plants with longstanding, concealed and uncontrolled leakages of dangerous substances
- large scale agricultural plants and railway yards
- uncontrolled dumps of hazardous waste, pesticides, fuel and other hazardous substances
- pollution attributable to the armed forces
- long term and uncontrolled disposal of hazardous substances from mining and similar activities
Identification only covers environmental loads not already registered under the Geology Act. Under that Act, 'environmental load' is any form of pollution other than environmental damage that is attributable to human activities and represents a serious risk to human health or the environment (ie rock, soil or underground water)
The legislation follows the principle 'polluter pays'. The (legal or natural) person whose activities caused an environmental load must create and execute a 'Work Plan' to remove it, with similar obligations to those in the Geology Act for remedying the problem, conducting geological surveys and monitoring any affected geological elements.
If no Work Plan is carried out by the person responsible, the relevant Ministry will carry one out where there is a direct threat to human life or health, or to the environment.
The Work Plan:
- will be checked by the Regional Environmental Authority every year to ensure it is being carried out
- must be updated every six years until it is completed (by the authority or person held responsible), and take into account all geological work that has been carried out in the meantime
- once updated, must be sent to the Regional Environmental Authority for approval
- can be the subject of an application to Regional Environmental Authority (from the person or Ministry responsible for carrying it out) for confirmation that it has been satisfactorily completed, with supporting evidence such as final reports on the remedial work carried out and the monitoring of geological factors, and an expert geological report confirming that the geological goals have been achieved
The (legal or natural) person whose activities caused the environmental load must repay the ministry within a year of the Work Plan being completed (ie from the effective date of the decision on its completion issued by the Regional Environmental Authority).
Where the person responsible no longer exists or cannot be identified, the Regional Environmental Authority will decide who is responsible. They will face the same obligations as the person responsible, and may be the person's legal successor (as opposed to their heir or residuary beneficiary).
Where the legal successor no longer exists or cannot be identified, the Regional Environmental Authority will impose responsibility on whoever acquired the property from the person responsible for the environmental load, unless they can prove:
- they acquired the property by inheritance and did not continue doing whatever caused the environmental load after acquiring it
- they acquired the property other than by inheritance, could not have known of the environmental load when acquiring it and did not continue doing whatever caused the environmental load after acquiring it
- they did continue doing whatever caused the environmental load but it did not lead to any further environmental pollution of the kinds caused or harm human health
Where the person responsible (or whoever is responsible in their place) also owns the property on which the environmental load is situated:
- it may only transfer the property after conducting a geological survey of the environment
- the contract dealing with the property transfer must include the final survey report (as required under the Geology Act), detailing the environmental load on the plot
- it must notify the Regional Environmental Authority of the transfer in writing and send them the property transfer contract
- the Regional Environmental Authority will then release whoever it had previously decided was responsible for the environmental load and, as a rule, decide that the new owner is responsible instead
- failure by the owner to comply with these requirements could lead to a fine of between €700 and €20,000 (or €5,000-€33,000 for entrepreneurs and businesses)
Further sanctions would apply for other offences or administration misdemeanours committed by the owner or person held responsible for the environmental load.
Law: Act 409/2011 Coll. on Environmental Load
This article was written for Law-Now, CMS Cameron McKenna's free online information service. To register for Law-Now, please go to www.law-now.com/law-now/mondaq
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The original publication date for this article was 13/01/2012.