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Former ministers: Finland's environmental monitoring under threat from regional reform

Two ex-environment ministers from the Green Party have accused the centre-right government of running Finland's system of monitoring environmental impact into the ground.

Kokonjärvi Lake in the region of Pirkanmaa Image: Esko Puikko / Yle

Former environmental ministers and Green Party heavyweights Ville Niinistö and Satu Hassi have joined together to express their concern about what they say are Prime Minister Juha Sipilä's government's attempts to scrap Finland's system of environmental monitoring. They say the last nail in the coffin is a section of the proposed regional administration reform that would take away environmental authorities' ability to oversee environmentally-adverse activities and appeal the decisions of other government groups.

If the regional reform is voted into law, it would also do away with the current ELY centres, the Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment, which are responsible for the regional implementation and development tasks of the central government. They would be replaced by a single national licensing and supervision authority named Luova.

"A significant policy line on the government-promoted regional administration reform was arrived at quietly in December. Environmental authorities would no longer be able to appeal decisions on things like mining permits," the two politicians say.

Carrying out environmental impact assessments is understood to be in the public interest, as decisions in this area influence Finland's forests, water, landscape and air quality.

Credibility of decisions called into question

The two former ministers also criticize the way that the government has designed Luova to handle environmental matters in the future. The new national-level watchdog will not be divided into separate specialised or area groups, but will instead monitor the general environmental interest.

The Supreme Administrative Court and experts in environmental law have joined the ex-ministers in their criticism. University of Eastern Finland professor of environmental law Tapani Määtä says the effects of the proposed change should be analysed closely, as they could weaken the decision-making credibility of the relevant authorities.

Responsibility transferred to citizens and NGOs

The authors of the statement say the government's new model would transfer the responsibility for keeping tabs on potential threats to the environment from the government to the country's citizen activists and environmental advocacy organizations.

The Green MPs accuse the government of purposely trying to run down environmental policy.

"Nature can't defend itself and so we need people to safeguard our public interest. We need independent state authorities to defend the environment, ones that look beyond short-term business interests," Niinistö and Hassi write.

"Finnish people trust their government to take care of the environment. The government's own memo admits that the reform would shift the monitoring of the legality of its decisions to NGOs and its citizens," says the pair.

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