Finnish liability insurance law scope defined

Decree puts 2,000 firms on standby for compulsory environmental liability insurance

About 2,000 Finnish industrial firms will be legally obliged to purchase environmental liability insurance from January next year, following signature of a decree last Thursday by Finnish president Martti Ahtisaari.

The decree specifies which industry sectors will be affected by an act on environmental damage liability insurance passed early in 1997 and due to enter into force on 1 January 1999. Any company subject to an environmental permit will be covered, according to the decree.

This means that about 2,000 firms will be affected, the Finnish environment ministry says. The number will grow to 4,000 as Finland adjusts the criteria to match those in the EU directive on integrated pollution prevention and control, a ministry official told ENDS Daily.

The 1997 act does not apply to cases where a company that causes environmental damage can be identified and shown to be primarily responsible. Strict liability rules are already in force in Finland requiring such companies to pay for damage they have caused.

What the act does cover is situations where a firm that has caused environmental damage cannot be found or is bankrupt, or where the source of damage cannot be agreed. In this case, other companies with some connection to the operations that caused the damage are being made liable and are being required to take out insurance to pay any costs arising.

With the exception of similar but more limited rules that already apply in Sweden, the Finnish law is Europe's only national measure imposing legal environmental liability rules on industry.

Insurance premiums under the law will average about FM10-15,000 (Ecu1,670-2,510), and the insurance industry is expecting total revenues of FM15-20m annually, an environment ministry official said. Individual companies will pay anything from FM2,000 to FM200,000, the official said, depending on their size and environmental hazard.

The law will not apply retrospectively and therefore does not apply to cases of existing land contamination. It will apply in future, however, to gradual or diffuse as well as immediate, concentrated pollution incidents, according to the environment ministry.

Finnish industry remains unhappy about the law, which the Confederation of Finnish Industry and Employers described as "shooting a fly with a cannon". Since the act was passed by the parliament, fish farm owners in particular, have argued that the rules should not apply to them. "They told us it was unfair to them," an official told ENDS Daily. "We told them it was unfair to everybody".

Follow Up:
Finnish environment ministry, tel: +358 9 19911.

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