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The Role of Environmental NGOs: Russian Challenges American Lessons - Proceedings of a Workshop COLLABORATION OF REGIONAL GOVERNMENT BODIES WITH ENVIRONMENTAL PUBLIC ORGANIZATIONS: THE EXAMPLE OF TOMSK OBLAST V.V.Galtsova Committee of Natural Resources for Tomsk Oblast R.T.Tukhvatulin Department of Natural Resources and Oil-and-Gas Complex of Tomsk Oblast Article 32 of this country’s fundamental law—the Constitution of the Russian Federation—establishes that citizens of the Russian Federation shall have the right to participate in managing state affairs both directly by means of referenda and through their representatives. The article creates a legal basis for public participation in the process of environmentally sound decision-making carried out by state bodies. Under Article 58 of the Constitution and Article 12 Part 1 of the Russian Federation law “On Protection of the Natural Environment” citizens shall not only enjoy the right to a favorable environment, but shall also bear equal responsibility for its protection. The duty to protect nature is at the level of the Constitution, much like the responsibility to defend the Fatherland and to pay legally established taxes (M.I.Vasilyeva, 1999, p.34). However, the government’s obligations to take public opinion into account during decision-making are not written in all laws currently in force. Cooperation between the State and citizens in solving environmental problems and protecting environmental rights is more the responsibility of state bodies and officials than the public. The problems of the environment and the health of people are social problems. Yet the solution of the problem is being carried out by so-called “residual financing.” From 1995 to 2000, payments into Tomsk Oblast’s budget for the use of the region’s natural resources comprised 4.3 to 5.2 percent of total income. At the same time, budget expenditures for environmental protection and restoration of natural resources ranged from 0 to 0.3 percent only. In 1995–1999, the environmental fund was from 0.2 to 0.8 percent. The raw mineral resources fund
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The Role of Environmental NGOs: Russian Challenges American Lessons - Proceedings of a Workshop was from 1.7 to 4.5 percent. In 1999, the environmental fund was 1 percent, and the territorial raw mineral resources restoration fund 10 percent. On the one hand, low payments have been coupled with wasteful and irrational utilization of natural resources as well as with environmental pollution. On the other, financial assets for protection and restoration of natural resources are not available. A hard look at the legislation currently in force shows that citizen and NGO rights are limited to participation in discussions only by invitation from officials. Decisions are made by government bodies alone. It is extremely difficult for citizens and small-scale NGOs to gain recognition from the officials responsible for decision-making and to derive benefit from the discussions. Thus, two key issues to be addressed by NGOs as well as by government are: Access to information Possibility of participating in decision-making process. How are the issues solved in Tomsk Oblast? PUBLIC ENVIRONMENTAL INFORMATION SYSTEM OF TOMSK OBLAST The law “On Protection of the Environment” (Articles 6–10) prescribes that bodies responsible for environmental protection should provide citizens and the general public with necessary environmental information as well as render assistance to citizens and public organizations in understanding such information. Goskomekologia (now the Ministry of Natural Resources) is responsible for coordination and protection of the natural environment, as well as for notification of the public of its condition. To meet these responsibilities, Goskomekologia of Tomsk Oblast had developed its own regional Public Environmental Information System. Outcomes of sociological polls carried out in Russia and in the oblast from 1995–1998 were used as a basis for setting up the system. We have managed to clarify environmental problems that concern the local population and sources of environmental information about them. We have promoted a monthly regional radio broadcasting program and set up a newspaper, The Green Meridian. Also, regional TV, information bulletins, round tables, and briefings are being used. A public environmental inquiry office has been established. Such activity as “Department Days” (in our case, the Department of Natural Resources and Oil-and-Gas Complex of Tomsk Oblast) is also used. During these days, representatives of the local administration visit different districts and
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The Role of Environmental NGOs: Russian Challenges American Lessons - Proceedings of a Workshop organize meetings with the local population to discuss the environmental situation. Of prime interest is the creation of a server to provide official and reliable environmental information for the community. One more innovation is the server’s discussion page. Everyone can visit the page and post any question. There is a special subdivision on the page, “A question to Mr. A.M.Adam, Chair of the Committee.” There are many possibilities to provide the public with environmental information. But the task is not only to give information, for example, if the benzopyrene level reaches 15, the permissible value, in some town. Environmental education is of more importance. Information that is distributed should create interest for further information. It should provoke public concern over the environment as well as a desire to protect the right to a healthy and favorable environment. FORMATION OF AN ENVIRONMENTAL MANAGEMENT AND CONSERVATION SYSTEM A compromise between nature and society and the right to a healthy and favorable natural environment is the key principle of environmental management. Another basic principle has been included in the Declaration on the Natural Environment, adopted at the UN Conference in Rio de Janeiro. It states, “Environmental matters should be solved in an efficient way and with participation of all citizens concerned.” We have tried to determine how to coordinate activity of citizens at the appropriate level. For this reason we have developed a scheme of interplay between all structures concerned with environmental problems in Tomsk Oblast. A coordinating environmental council was set up on April 13, 1995. Representatives of federal and regional services, industrial enterprises, the scientific community, and the public at large are among the council members. The body is responsible for forming a regional environmental strategy as well as for elaboration of plans for actions and urgent measures to be submitted for public discussion. Having permitted representatives of two NGOs to participate in the council, we made it possible for the public at large to participate officially in the decision-making process.
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The Role of Environmental NGOs: Russian Challenges American Lessons - Proceedings of a Workshop OUTCOMES OF NGO ACTIVITY: POSITIVE AND NEGATIVE ASPECTS Environmentally sound decisions are reflected in legal actions adopted by state and local government bodies and constituent entities. Their execution has to do with individual sites and with the natural environment as a whole. The decisions must have an ecological basis and pass the environmental examination and public hearing process. The following decisions on large-scale projects have been made by the Tomsk Oblast agencies taking into account public opinion: Stoppage of gravel extraction from the Tom River bed. (A public organization, the Committee for Conservation of the Tom) Ban on construction of a nutritional supplement biotechnology plant. (A public organization, the Ecological Initiative) Removal from service three of five reactors of the Siberian Chemical Complex. (A public organization, the Ecological Initiative) Ban on containers for storing fissile materials received from military units under the governmental decision on sharp reduction of nuclear warheads in Russia. (A public organization, the Ecological Initiative) The activity of NGOs made it possible to deepen public understanding of environmental problems and to exert pressure upon Tomsk Oblast agencies. One example is the public hearing held in September 2000 on the premises of the Tomsk Oblast Administration. The public hearing or, to be more precise, a discussion on construction of the Seversk Nuclear Power Station (NHS-500), took place due to inquiries of public organizations and citizens under the federal law “On Using Atomic Energy” (Articles 11 and 14). Effective actions that had been carried out by public organizations of Tomsk, Moscow, and other towns forced the Tomsk Oblast government to conclude that the designers of the NHS-500 project must eliminate all shortcomings and violations of environmental legislation related to the project. The local authorities also decided that the NHS-500 project must be revised drastically in view of comments expressed at the public discussion. The public discussion on construction of the Seversk Nuclear Power Station was the first large-scale public action in the region. All interested persons could take part. Those who were not able to make personal presentations could send their written proposals to the Tomsk Oblast government for consideration. Under the law, decisions of the government agencies must be officially published for the information of the general public, although this has not yet been done.
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The Role of Environmental NGOs: Russian Challenges American Lessons - Proceedings of a Workshop A large number of Tomsk city and oblast public organizations and movements are involved in environmental problems. In 1999 there were more than ten public organizations working in the following areas: Free expression of opinion Participation in development of normative acts Referenda on problems of environmental protection Environmental examinations Construction projects and selection of sites Public environmental monitoring Ecological education Let us briefly summarize achievements of the main local public organizations. The Tomsk Environmental Student Inspection (TESI) is a public organization created in October 1999. It has more than 200 members, primarily students of Tomsk. Much attention was given to TESI by the local mass media in 1999. Forty-seven articles were published in the regional newspapers; the town and regional radio stations broadcast 51 reports; and four local TV channels devoted 11 reports to its work. TESI is a major organizer of environmental demonstrations. The Tomsk Oblast Council of the All-Russian Nature Protection Society was founded in 1992. One of the main tasks of the Council is a TV program, “The Ecology Club,” devoted to the environmental problems of Tomsk Oblast. A distinctive feature of TESI is its corps of inspectors. Members have the status of non-staff inspectors of the State Committee for Protection of the Natural Environment. Under the law “On Non-Staff Environmental Inspection,” TESI has the right to conduct inspections of different enterprises and plants and to make claims against inappropriate use of the natural environment. In 1999, TESI members carried out 165 inspections in the industrial zones of Tomsk and the oblast. In the course of inspections they prepared 81 claims, and they imposed 73 fines totaling 7,130 rubles. In 1999, complex explorations of the Ob, the Tom, and the Ushaika rivers were conducted under the TESI environmental program “Clean Rivers.” The Environmental Legal Center is a public organization founded in 1996 with the objectives of protecting citizens’ rights to a safe environment and monitoring environmental legislation. Its members are intellectuals, students of the Tomsk colleges, and farmers. The Center keeps in touch with prominent scientists. The Center deals with bans on environmentally hazardous activity and compensation for damage caused by abusing the right to a safe environment. The Center supports appeals against actions (or inactions) of state bodies violating citizens’ non-property rights.
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The Role of Environmental NGOs: Russian Challenges American Lessons - Proceedings of a Workshop Recently the Supreme Court Judiciary Board overturned the Tomsk local court decision on a license for disposal of liquid radioactive wastes in the ground water areas of Seversk. The license was issued by the local administration to the Siberian Chemical Complex in 1996. The Environmental Initiative movement (EI) was founded in 1989 with the primary goal of providing a public focus for anti-nuclear activity. The main achievements are the following: A 1989 ban on construction of a nutrition supplement biotechnology plant. Support of the Krapivinsky water reservoir construction (1989–90). Obtaining about 100,000 signatures to ban storage containers for fissile materials received from military units. EI’s primary goal is to counteract the plans of the Ministry of Atomic Energy to start construction of a nuclear-powered heating plant (AST-500) attached to the Siberian Chemical Complex. The goal is to be achieved by dissemination of reliable information about the hazardous impact of the complex on the environment and on the health of the population. EI also tries to expose “the nuclear myths” about the illusory low-price, ecological safety, and harmlessness of nuclear energy. A Tomsk Oblast public organization, the Wind Rose, was founded in 1992 with the purpose of attracting local attention to environmental problems, to ecologically safe commercial activity, and to ecological education. It has 10 members. The organization has developed the following actions and publications: a training program of continuous ecological education for schoolchildren, a textbook, Education in Nature Protection: Elementary Course, and a textbook on ecology, Changing the World. It set up an ecological club, The Road to the Twenty-First Century, for pupils and students. It held an Internet conference, Environmental Security, and published materials of the conference. A roundtable, The Tomsk Oblast’s Pupils’ and Students’ Participation in Solving Regional Environment Problems, was held in November 1999. Teachers, lecturers, and local public organization representatives were among the participants. The subject was methods for informal ecological education such as tourism, clubs of ecologists, teenage environmental projects, Internet and e-mail, and cooperation with the mass media. An ecological and ethnographical excursion called Elan was organized in September 1999. Twenty-four pupils and three teachers took part. A textbook on ecological-ethnographical excursions and games was developed. An information bulletin EKObanderol [ECO Mailbag] is being published. If necessary it can include urgent information, such as developments in Yugoslavia (NATO strikes and the environmental consequences).
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The Role of Environmental NGOs: Russian Challenges American Lessons - Proceedings of a Workshop A youth organization, Siberian House, was created in 1974 on the base of the Explorer tourist brigade. The team includes 20 youngsters and five tutors. The main activities are regional ethnography studies, summer camps, and sporting contests. One goal is exploration of rare sites of nature with visits to 19 sites. To clarify the formal status and legal base of the sites, appropriate documentation has been submitted to the Oblast Administration. The Nature House is a children’s ecological and tourist organization and has created reasonable attitudes to nature protection. The Aliom Club is an environmental educational society created to popularize ecologically safe technologies. Scientists, managers, engineers, and technologists are among its members. The Tomsk Oblast Scout Center is an organization related to tourism and ecological education. Its activity stretches over seven regions. The number of scouts is about 500. In Chainsk district a school scout team cooperates with the local forest management authorities in the village of Podgornoye. The tourist club Odyssey is a public organization created to organize tourism and ecological education. The Strezhevoi Ecological-Biological Center (the township of Strezhevoi) is a public organization dealing with ecological education and fostering. Summing up, the above public organizations are of great benefit to the community as well as to the region as a whole. In conclusion, let us make some recommendations on increasing the role of nongovernmental organizations in the environmental decision-making process. Is it difficult for state bodies to coordinate the activity of the public environmental organizations? Among the different laws currently in force, there are inconsistencies in regulations relating to public participation in managing state affairs. However, public environmental organizations must be able to make their own contributions. Adoption of appropriate normative acts is the only way out of the situation. It is these acts that provide for comprehensive and adequate public participation in environmentally sound decision-making Also, it is necessary to carry out training courses on management and sustainable development for nongovernmental organizations. Problems of preventing environmental harm and compensation are of extreme concern for the population. However, the solution is being implemented by “residual financing.” Financial sources and the measures to prevent and compensate environmental harm should be determined by law. Nowadays it may be worthwhile to combine all financial payments to the local budget for utilization of natural resources in a joint natural resources restoration fund. The fund could allow for local government bodies to focus financial means on strategic directions. Payments for utilization of subsurface resources could form the principal part of the fund. Use of the funds for improvement and restoration of water resources, biological resources, and wild nature sites is necessary and
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The Role of Environmental NGOs: Russian Challenges American Lessons - Proceedings of a Workshop quite reasonable. This is especially the case with regard to the activity of the oil-and-gas complex, which destroys these resources.
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