site.btaUPDATED Protests against Environment-related Legislative Changes Held across Bulgaria

Protests against Environment-related Legislative Changes Held across Bulgaria
Protests against Environment-related Legislative Changes Held across Bulgaria
The protest in Pazardzhik, April 14, 2024 (BTA Photo)

Citizens and environmentalists protested against draft legislative changes concerning the environment in downtown Sofia on Sunday. Protests were also held in Plovdiv, Pazardzhik (South Central Bulgaria), and Varna (on the Black Sea).

Amendments are being introduced between second and first reading in the Environmental Protection Act, the Investment Promotion Act, and the Spacial Development Act that endanger the environment and human health and limit civil participation, the Sofia protest's organizers from For The Nature nongovernmental organization said.

The NGO explained that if you have a small business, for example a guest house, you must go through the full list of procedures. However, someone with a private interest wishing to set up a tailings pond or take up gold extraction is now given the opportunity to skip the mechanisms for court proceedings, by getting a status of investment project of national importance. This limits the opportunity for society to react, the NGO argued.

Galya Velichkova from the village of Hrabursko, Bozhourishte Municipality (Western Bulgaria)  told the media in Sofia that the draft revisions will make things much easier for the companies extracting gold in Bulgaria, leaving toxins here while exporting their product abroad.

Bozhourishte Municipal Councillor Mihail Slavhev said he was at the protest in Sofia because he wanted to protect his municipality as well as the whole of Sofia. Exploration is currently being conducted on the territory of Zlatousha village, part of which is in Bozhourishte, for future gold extraction through open-pit mining. Zlatoucha is some 17 km away from Sofia by a straight line, he added. A local referendum is being organized there "so we can show we are against being poisoned in the name of some gold bars", he said.

The protest was also supported by the Green Movement party, whose position is that the proposals made between the first and second reading of the bill to amend the Environment Protection Act remove the practical purpose of environmental impact assessments and preventive control.

In Plovdiv, the protesters blocked for 15 minutes the road to Asenovgrad, holding posters against quarries and shouting, "Mafia!". Participating were residents of over ten villages and Plovdiv's Komatevo borough.

Lawyer Snezhana Stefanova, one of the protesters against a marble quarry on the territory of Gornoslav village, said that the draft legislative changes will put big investment projects on the very fast track to approval, without a quality assessment of their impact on the environment and human health. She described as scandalous the amendment whereby settlements' spacial development plans can be revised unilaterally by a minister or regional governor, without asking municipalities or local residents. Extending the validity period of an environmental impact assessment from 5 to 15 years means that the concessionaire, regardless of how the environment or settlement has changed over the years, will have 15 years to start actual work, she commented. According to the EU Court of Justice, even three years is too long a validity period for an environmental impact assessment, Stefanova noted.

Maya Hristozova commented that the draft revisions contradict the ordinance on the Council of Ministers' work. Powers of the municipal councils, who are elected directly by the people,  are transferred to a regional governor or a minister, who are appointed on their positions. This increases the risk of corruption, she argued. The revisions also limit the time and the options for appealing the construction of, for example, a quarry to seven days and a single court instance. "It appears that certain people and political parties are trying to take away all our rights," Hristozova added.

In Pazardzhik, dozens of residents of the local villages of Patelenitsa, Vetren Dol, and Varvara joined the protest, organized by For The Nature and backed by Green Movement. The participants said they would continue protesting, including by blocking road sections.

Yoanna Petrova said that the draft changes deprive citizens of the right to public debate on declared investment intentions. The revisions benefit the private business to the detriment of the environment and human health.

Patelenitsa Mayor Stoil Furtsov said he will not allow the construction of an extraction quarry in the village's area.

/DS/

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By 12:11 on 25.05.2024 Today`s news

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