Parliament committee urges more openness

Environment committee debates access to information law, Greek waste fine, Baia Mare mine spill

Members of the European Parliament's environment committee met in Brussels this week and ploughed through a packed agenda, including votes to reject ministerial accords on air pollution as insufficient (ENDS Daily 27 February) and a debate on waste electronic equipment (see separate article, this issue).

The other major highlight was the committee's debate on a European Commission drive for improved access to environmental information held by public authorities, by aligning EU legislation with the 1998 Århus convention. This is to be achieved by revising a 1990 directive (ENDS Daily 3 July 2000).

Several amendments to tighten the Commission proposals were passed by the committee. It wants to widen both the definition of public authorities, to include individuals as well as organisations that carry out work for public authorities and which are "likely to affect" the environment, and of "information," to include that which relates "directly and indirectly" to the state of the environment.

It also says member states should set up public databases of environmental documents, that the deadline for authorities to reply to requests for information should be shortened from one month to two weeks, and that administration costs should be limited to the costs of reproducing materials alone, rather than also including the costs of retrieving and collating them.

The Commission updated the committee on Greece's progress towards paying daily fines imposed by the EU after it was found guilty of persistently flouting waste laws at a rubbish dump in Crete (ENDS Daily 7 Dec 2000) . Athens has now paid euros 2.98m, leaving euros 1.22m outstanding, rising by euros 20,000 daily. An official said the offending dump was still in operation.

Finally, Tom Garvey, chairman of the task force set up to investigate last year's Baia Mare cyanide spill in Romania, presented his findings to MEPs (ENDS Daily 15 December 2000). Mr Garvey called for a single piece of EU legislation covering mining activities to be introduced to prevent similar accidents, and the creation of "industry or citizens' guidance documents" explaining the powers of relevant legislation to local residents. Meanwhile, he said, the devastated river Tisza had recovered more quickly than expected.

Follow Up:
European Parliament environment committee, tel: +32 2 284 2111, plus relevant articles in the parliament's news service.

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