Tougher rules ensvisaged with new environmental law

Much debate to follow on penalties

Much in the way of environmental legislation has been pulled together in one amending document, the National Environmental Management Laws Amendment Bill, with considerable and extensive debate currently in process surrounding the implications of imposing penalties on environmental offenders.

The mechanisms to assess such penalties, who actually imposes them and collects, is not clear, say parliamentarians, and many such matters, particularly those which affect mining and necessary environmental plans for development, have been deferred into the next parliamentary session.

What constitutes unlawful activity?

A considerable number of the provisions surround the empowerment of the minister to prohibit development in certain geographical areas will have to be considered and also how to proclaim activities making them unlawful or allowed in terms of the National Environmental Management Waste Act. Also the question of the imposition of fines in certain areas of industrial activity will be probed.

On the question of general unlawful environmental activity and the fines relevant to their sections, it has been submitted by a number of environmental groups  in public hearings have complained that by defining the fines in the manner they are proposed was, in reality, as an unintended consequence making provision for a  “menu” to enable parties to “buy their way out” of certain environmental restrictions.

Procedures to be followed

Much of the legislation so far agreed to, however, involves non-problematic areas with regard to changes in environmental implementation plan procedures;  the appointment of environmental officials and the preparation of “outlook reports”. Further debate is expected to follow on legislative issues surround the controversial subject of “products” deemed to possibly have a detrimental effect on the environment.

Affected also by the proposed legislation is the National Management Biodiversity Act, where certain relatively minor amendments are concerned regarding activity in this area of endeavour but the entire process of amending the anchor legislation must be noted as having implications for a number of other pieces of environmental legislation, particularly the National Environmental Management Air Quality Act.

The current chairperson for this session of Parliament has been Adv. Johnny de Lange and the committee goes forward into 2013 with a number of major issues on its agenda that urgently need to be debated.

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