Law 4685/2020: A Promising Step to the Modernisation of Environmental Legislation

Law 4685/2020: A Promising Step to the Modernisation of Environmental Legislation

Authors: Constantinos Kavadellas, Stavroula Genikalioti, Danai Ladea, KG Law Firm

On 5 May 2020, the Greek Parliament passed the new environmental law “Μodernisation of the Environmental Legislation, incorporation of Directives 2018/844 and 2019/692 of the European Parliament and the Council into Greek legislation and other provisions”. An overarching priority of the new law is to simplify the environmental legislation and to accelerate the processes of environmental licensing, always with a view of environmental protection. In this context, the first two chapters of the aforementioned law deal with the simplification of the environmental permits (Chapter 1), and the licensing procedure of the Renewable Energy Sources (Chapter 2). Moreover, another main aspect of the Law is the Management of Protected Areas (Chapter 3) and the Land-Use Zones inside them (Chapter 4). Last but not least, the tenth chapter of the new environmental law deals with waste management issues (Chapter 10) and the eleventh (Chapter 11) contains some other provisions relating to the environment. In particular, the key points related to the abovementioned chapters of Law 4685/2020, are the following:

Chapter 1: Simplification of environmental licensing

In accordance with the first article of the Law, a Decision Approving Environmental Conditions (“AEPO”) is valid for at least 15 years (the previous time limit was 10 years). Moreover, this validity period of AEPO is extended to six years for environmental certified (“EMAS”) projects. Thus, the compliance with the environmental legislation and the terms of their licensing are being monitored more effectively, as well as a great incentive for pursuing environmental certification is granted. The abovementioned provisions are applicable also to all AEPOs in force at the time of publication of this law. Furthermore, the second, third and fourth article of the Law include a set of regulations and amendments, with a view to simplifying the licensing procedure, as well as the licensing renewal procedure and the licensing amendment procedure, of specific projects that have an impact on the environment. In particular:

Regarding the licensing procedure (Article 2)

  • For the projects that may cause a very significant effect on the environment, the completeness of the file of the Environmental Impact Assessment should be checked within an exclusive period of 10 working days from the date of its submission, while for the projects that may cause a significant effect on the environment, the file of the Environmental Impact Assessment should be checked within an exclusive period of five working days from the date of its submission.
  • For both of the projects with a very significant and significant effect on the environment, in case the competent environmental authority note the lack of any required document, it should request this document within the abovementioned exclusive period and after five working days since then, proceeds to the next stages of the process or rejects the file.
  • Within the exclusive period of 30 working days since the publication of the Environmental Impact Assessment, the collection of the opinions of public competent authorities and the public’s perceptions, in the context of the public consultation, shall be carried out.
  • An evaluation of the Environmental Impact Assessment, the aforementioned opinions and perceptions and any views of the body of the project or activity, as well as a draft of a fully justified Decision Approving Environmental Conditions or a rejecting decision should be carried out within the exclusive period of 20 working days since the expiration of the abovementioned 30-days deadline.
  • The issuance of a Decision Approving Environmental Conditions shall take place after 10 working days since the expiration of the above 20-days deadline. Otherwise, the competent authority should issue a rejecting decision, after fully justifying that the adverse environmental effects of the suggested project are extremely important, even after the provision of special terms and restrictions.

Regarding the licensing renewal procedure (Article 3)

  • The competent environmental authority should check the completeness of the file of renewal of the Decision Approving Environmental Conditions within an exclusive period of 3 working days from the date of its submission.
  • In case the competent environmental authority notes the lack of any required document, should request this document and after 3 working days since then proceeds to the next stages of the process or rejects the file.
  • Within 15 working days since the expiration date of the previous stage the competent environmental authority evaluates the file of the renewal of the Decision Approving Environmental Conditions

Regarding the licensing amendment procedure (Article 4)

  • The competent environmental authority should check the completeness of the file of amendment of the AEPO within an exclusive period of three working days from the date of its submission.
  • In case the competent environmental authority notes the lack of any required document, it should request this document and after three working days since then proceeds to the next stages of the process or rejects the file.
  • Within 10 working days since the expiration date of the previous stage, the competent environmental authority evaluates the file of the amendment of the AEPO.

Thus, by these regulations the deadlines in the various environmental licensing stages are being shortened and the procedures of issuance, renewal and amendment of the AEPOs shall be made clear and transparent, so as the investors and the competent environmental authorities shall be facilitated.

The next articles of the Law provide the reconstruction of the Central Environmental Licensing Board (“KESPA”) and the Regional Environmental Licensing Boards (“PESPA”), which main role is to provide substantial opinion on the environmental compatibility of a project and its environmental conditions (Article 6). They also provide the increased involvement of the Qualified Assessors in the environmental licensing procedure, aiming at the acceleration of the licensing procedures (Article 7). It is also provided that from 1 January 2021, the environmental licensing procedure shall be carried out through the Digital Environmental Register (Article 8). Furthermore, in the same chapter, it is stipulated that the environmental conditions are independent of the project body, as well as that the assent of the Archaeological Department in the environmental conditions’ approval process shall be considered as approval in accordance with the provisions of the archaeological legislation (Article 9).

Chapter 2:  Renewable Energy Sources’ licensing procedure

In this chapter, a very short licensing process is established, by reducing to a minimum of the supporting documents required and the use of automated checks by the new information system, as well as a parallel reduction in the financial burden. In this context, in place of the Production License, the establishment of the Certification of an electricity producer from renewable energy sources is instituted (Article 11). By this Certification, the process of licensing of projects can be initiated without a previous exhaustive assessment of the sustainability and feasibility of the projects. This chapter also includes provisions relating to the implementation of projects within a sufficient and reasonable time-frame and the acceleration of the further licensing procedure. After the expiration of the reasonable period of time, the validity of the aforementioned Certification ceases automatically (Article 12). Moreover, in Art. 13 of the same Law, there are provisions and constraints for siting of the Renewable Energy Sources stations.

Chapter 3: Management of Protected Areas

A set of regulations aiming at the implementation of a new and contemporary governance system of Protected Areas are providing in this chapter. In this context, a single body called Natural Environment and Climate Change Organisation (“OFYPEKA”), which is responsible for implementing the policy set by the Ministry of Environment and Energy for the management of the Protected Areas in Greece, for tackling climate change and for promoting and implementing sustainable development actions, is established (Article 27). Another critical responsibility of the new Organisation is to provide an opinion on the appropriate assessment of the impact of each project in its Protected Areas.

Chapter 4: Zones inside Protected Areas

Pursuant to Article 44 of this chapter, protected areas are categorised into zones according to their primary management objectives:

  • absolute nature protection zone;
  • nature protection zone;
  • habitat and species management zone (mining activities are allowed, amongst others, in that zone);
  • sustainable natural resource management zone.

Chapter 10: Waste Management

The existing administrative procedure for the waste management plan is simplified and accelerated. The main provisions of the Law in relation to waste management planning are:

National Waste Management Planning (Article 83 paragraph 1,2)

  • 10-year validity period;
  • Assessment of the plan at least every five years by the Ministry of Environment and Energy;
  • Review of the plan, if necessary;
  • The plan is approved by an act of the Council of Ministers, facilitating the whole process.

Regional Waste Management Planning (Article 83 paragraph 3)

  • The plan is approved by the decision of the Regional Council within two months from the opinion of the Secretary-General for Waste Management Coordination of the Ministry for the Environment and Energy.
  • In the event of the expiry of the two-month time limit, the approval of the plan will be given by the joint decision of the Minister for the Interior and the Minister for the Environment and Energy.

Local Waste Management Planning (Article 84)

  • 5-year validity period and annual update;
  • The plan is approved by the decision of the Commission for the Quality of Life of the local government agency of first level after the opinion of the Solid Waste Management Agency within one month from the submission of the question. For the local government agencies that do not have this Commission, the plan is approved by the City Council.
  • Furthermore, it is provided for in the same law that organisations or businesses that collect or transfer non-hazardous waste on a professional basis, are no longer obliged to obtain an authorisation. This measure simplifies the process which until now was inherent to unjustified bureaucracy and a financial burden (Article 85).
  • However, registration on the Electronic Waste Registry is required. The aforementioned Electronic Waste Registry aims at the systematic collection and processing of waste generation and management data. Furthermore, this Registry will include any organisation or business that produces waste, carries out waste treatment, or collects and transfers waste. This provision also applies to the local government agencies of first level (Article 87).

Chapter 11: Other significant provisions of the Law

  • Licenses for installation and operation of power plants with total power per station up to 50MW, as well as for extension or renewal of such licenses, are issued by a decision of the competent body of the Decentralized Administration (Article 105).
  • As far as hydrocarbon research, the law provides for that the Contractor may use areas belonging to the State, to local government agencies or their legal entities for the time period during which the researches are conducted (Article 110).
  • The Greek State may limit its direct and/or indirect ownership, or the ownership of the legal persons that controls in the share capital of the Independent Power Transmission Operator S.A. in order to allow the Greek State to make further use of this (Article 115).
  • Photovoltaic or solar thermal stations with an installed capacity of less than or equal to 1 MW (the previous limit was 0,5 MW) are exempted from the obligation to obtain environmental licensing (Article 126).

Authors: Constantinos Kavadellas, Stavroula Genikalioti, Danai Ladea, KG Law Firm

On 5 May 2020, the Greek Parliament passed the new environmental law “Μodernisation of the Environmental Legislation, incorporation of Directives 2018/844 and 2019/692 of the European Parliament and the Council into Greek legislation and other provisions”. An overarching priority of the new law is to simplify the environmental legislation and to accelerate the processes of environmental licensing, always with a view of environmental protection. In this context, the first two chapters of the aforementioned law deal with the simplification of the environmental permits (Chapter 1), and the licensing procedure of the Renewable Energy Sources (Chapter 2). Moreover, another main aspect of the Law is the Management of Protected Areas (Chapter 3) and the Land-Use Zones inside them (Chapter 4). Last but not least, the tenth chapter of the new environmental law deals with waste management issues (Chapter 10) and the eleventh (Chapter 11) contains some other provisions relating to the environment. In particular, the key points related to the abovementioned chapters of Law 4685/2020, are the following:

Chapter 1: Simplification of environmental licensing

In accordance with the first article of the Law, a Decision Approving Environmental Conditions (“AEPO”) is valid for at least 15 years (the previous time limit was 10 years). Moreover, this validity period of AEPO is extended to six years for environmental certified (“EMAS”) projects. Thus, the compliance with the environmental legislation and the terms of their licensing are being monitored more effectively, as well as a great incentive for pursuing environmental certification is granted. The abovementioned provisions are applicable also to all AEPOs in force at the time of publication of this law. Furthermore, the second, third and fourth article of the Law include a set of regulations and amendments, with a view to simplifying the licensing procedure, as well as the licensing renewal procedure and the licensing amendment procedure, of specific projects that have an impact on the environment. In particular:

Regarding the licensing procedure (Article 2)

  • For the projects that may cause a very significant effect on the environment, the completeness of the file of the Environmental Impact Assessment should be checked within an exclusive period of 10 working days from the date of its submission, while for the projects that may cause a significant effect on the environment, the file of the Environmental Impact Assessment should be checked within an exclusive period of five working days from the date of its submission.
  • For both of the projects with a very significant and significant effect on the environment, in case the competent environmental authority note the lack of any required document, it should request this document within the abovementioned exclusive period and after five working days since then, proceeds to the next stages of the process or rejects the file.
  • Within the exclusive period of 30 working days since the publication of the Environmental Impact Assessment, the collection of the opinions of public competent authorities and the public’s perceptions, in the context of the public consultation, shall be carried out.
  • An evaluation of the Environmental Impact Assessment, the aforementioned opinions and perceptions and any views of the body of the project or activity, as well as a draft of a fully justified Decision Approving Environmental Conditions or a rejecting decision should be carried out within the exclusive period of 20 working days since the expiration of the abovementioned 30-days deadline.
  • The issuance of a Decision Approving Environmental Conditions shall take place after 10 working days since the expiration of the above 20-days deadline. Otherwise, the competent authority should issue a rejecting decision, after fully justifying that the adverse environmental effects of the suggested project are extremely important, even after the provision of special terms and restrictions.

Regarding the licensing renewal procedure (Article 3)

  • The competent environmental authority should check the completeness of the file of renewal of the Decision Approving Environmental Conditions within an exclusive period of 3 working days from the date of its submission.
  • In case the competent environmental authority notes the lack of any required document, should request this document and after 3 working days since then proceeds to the next stages of the process or rejects the file.
  • Within 15 working days since the expiration date of the previous stage the competent environmental authority evaluates the file of the renewal of the Decision Approving Environmental Conditions

Regarding the licensing amendment procedure (Article 4)

  • The competent environmental authority should check the completeness of the file of amendment of the AEPO within an exclusive period of three working days from the date of its submission.
  • In case the competent environmental authority notes the lack of any required document, it should request this document and after three working days since then proceeds to the next stages of the process or rejects the file.
  • Within 10 working days since the expiration date of the previous stage, the competent environmental authority evaluates the file of the amendment of the AEPO.

Thus, by these regulations the deadlines in the various environmental licensing stages are being shortened and the procedures of issuance, renewal and amendment of the AEPOs shall be made clear and transparent, so as the investors and the competent environmental authorities shall be facilitated.

The next articles of the Law provide the reconstruction of the Central Environmental Licensing Board (“KESPA”) and the Regional Environmental Licensing Boards (“PESPA”), which main role is to provide substantial opinion on the environmental compatibility of a project and its environmental conditions (Article 6). They also provide the increased involvement of the Qualified Assessors in the environmental licensing procedure, aiming at the acceleration of the licensing procedures (Article 7). It is also provided that from 1 January 2021, the environmental licensing procedure shall be carried out through the Digital Environmental Register (Article 8). Furthermore, in the same chapter, it is stipulated that the environmental conditions are independent of the project body, as well as that the assent of the Archaeological Department in the environmental conditions’ approval process shall be considered as approval in accordance with the provisions of the archaeological legislation (Article 9).

Chapter 2:  Renewable Energy Sources’ licensing procedure

In this chapter, a very short licensing process is established, by reducing to a minimum of the supporting documents required and the use of automated checks by the new information system, as well as a parallel reduction in the financial burden. In this context, in place of the Production License, the establishment of the Certification of an electricity producer from renewable energy sources is instituted (Article 11). By this Certification, the process of licensing of projects can be initiated without a previous exhaustive assessment of the sustainability and feasibility of the projects. This chapter also includes provisions relating to the implementation of projects within a sufficient and reasonable time-frame and the acceleration of the further licensing procedure. After the expiration of the reasonable period of time, the validity of the aforementioned Certification ceases automatically (Article 12). Moreover, in Art. 13 of the same Law, there are provisions and constraints for siting of the Renewable Energy Sources stations.

Chapter 3: Management of Protected Areas

A set of regulations aiming at the implementation of a new and contemporary governance system of Protected Areas are providing in this chapter. In this context, a single body called Natural Environment and Climate Change Organisation (“OFYPEKA”), which is responsible for implementing the policy set by the Ministry of Environment and Energy for the management of the Protected Areas in Greece, for tackling climate change and for promoting and implementing sustainable development actions, is established (Article 27). Another critical responsibility of the new Organisation is to provide an opinion on the appropriate assessment of the impact of each project in its Protected Areas.

Chapter 4: Zones inside Protected Areas

Pursuant to Article 44 of this chapter, protected areas are categorised into zones according to their primary management objectives:

  • absolute nature protection zone;
  • nature protection zone;
  • habitat and species management zone (mining activities are allowed, amongst others, in that zone);
  • sustainable natural resource management zone.

Chapter 10: Waste Management

The existing administrative procedure for the waste management plan is simplified and accelerated. The main provisions of the Law in relation to waste management planning are:

National Waste Management Planning (Article 83 paragraph 1,2)

  • 10-year validity period;
  • Assessment of the plan at least every five years by the Ministry of Environment and Energy;
  • Review of the plan, if necessary;
  • The plan is approved by an act of the Council of Ministers, facilitating the whole process.

Regional Waste Management Planning (Article 83 paragraph 3)

  • The plan is approved by the decision of the Regional Council within two months from the opinion of the Secretary-General for Waste Management Coordination of the Ministry for the Environment and Energy.
  • In the event of the expiry of the two-month time limit, the approval of the plan will be given by the joint decision of the Minister for the Interior and the Minister for the Environment and Energy.

Local Waste Management Planning (Article 84)

  • 5-year validity period and annual update;
  • The plan is approved by the decision of the Commission for the Quality of Life of the local government agency of first level after the opinion of the Solid Waste Management Agency within one month from the submission of the question. For the local government agencies that do not have this Commission, the plan is approved by the City Council.
  • Furthermore, it is provided for in the same law that organisations or businesses that collect or transfer non-hazardous waste on a professional basis, are no longer obliged to obtain an authorisation. This measure simplifies the process which until now was inherent to unjustified bureaucracy and a financial burden (Article 85).
  • However, registration on the Electronic Waste Registry is required. The aforementioned Electronic Waste Registry aims at the systematic collection and processing of waste generation and management data. Furthermore, this Registry will include any organisation or business that produces waste, carries out waste treatment, or collects and transfers waste. This provision also applies to the local government agencies of first level (Article 87).

Chapter 11: Other significant provisions of the Law

  • Licenses for installation and operation of power plants with total power per station up to 50MW, as well as for extension or renewal of such licenses, are issued by a decision of the competent body of the Decentralized Administration (Article 105).
  • As far as hydrocarbon research, the law provides for that the Contractor may use areas belonging to the State, to local government agencies or their legal entities for the time period during which the researches are conducted (Article 110).
  • The Greek State may limit its direct and/or indirect ownership, or the ownership of the legal persons that controls in the share capital of the Independent Power Transmission Operator S.A. in order to allow the Greek State to make further use of this (Article 115).
  • Photovoltaic or solar thermal stations with an installed capacity of less than or equal to 1 MW (the previous limit was 0,5 MW) are exempted from the obligation to obtain environmental licensing (Article 126).