The laws "raping" Baikal are justified in the State Duma by promising super-profits for the country.
On July 15, the State Duma adopted in the third reading the draft law "On the specifics of regulating certain relations in order to modernize and expand the main infrastructure and on amendments to certain legislative acts of the Russian Federation".
It makes it possible not to carry out a state environmental examination until December 31, 2024 during the construction and reconstruction of facilities that are part of the main infrastructure. In addition, it authorizes all activities that are expected to contribute to an increase in the capacity of the Baikal-Amur and Trans-Siberian Railways.
The Baikal natural territory consists of three parts: central, buffer and zone of atmospheric influence. The central part is a specially protected natural area; its borders are included in the list of UNESCO World Heritage Sites. The new law allows in a specially protected natural area to freely transfer land from the forest fund to other categories of land and to cut down as much forest as the decision-makers see fit.
"Construction, reconstruction of infrastructure facilities (facilities not related to the creation of forest infrastructure) necessary to increase the throughput of the Baikal-Amur and Trans-Siberian railways on the lands of the forest fund are allowed with clear felling and the transfer of these lands to lands of other categories", - says the bill.
According to Mikhail Kreindlin, the head of the specially protected natural areas of Greenpeace Russia, the law is dangerous, first of all, by the cancellation of the state examination for the construction of facilities in protected areas.
What does the abolition of the state ecological expertise until 2024 really mean for Baikal? The difficulty is that in practice no one yet understands what the vague concept of "backbone infrastructure" introduced into the law will look like.
“For Baikal, the damage from the project for the reconstruction of the BAM and Transsib may not be limited only to clear felling in the places where these highways run. In the worst case scenario, it is possible to include berths, airports, and roads leading to them in trunk infrastructure facilities. Then construction can begin in flattering territories, and in very valuable, the last remaining steppes on Olkhon Island, including in the Baikal National Park, with endangered animal species. A new six-lane road to China cannot be ruled out as threats. The Baikal fuel oil storage facility can also be built without environmental impact assessments, which in the event of a hypothetical catastrophe will put Baikal on a par with Chernobyl. Today the law already allows such projects to be carried out”, - Mikhail Kreindlin draws on the possible consequences in an interview with NI.
The law formally promoted by the State Duma was supposedly invented solely for the possibility of expanding the BAM and Transsib, only the goals of laying routes to Europe were declared. In the final version, the amendments affect absolutely all protected natural territories of Russia, and the law hits the regions even harder. The vast majority of protected natural areas in Russia (97%) are zones of regional significance. State expertise has been canceled for regional facilities - completely, for national - only for facilities with trunk infrastructure. If Baikal as a national territory damage from permitted clearcuts can theoretically be inflicted only pointwise, then in regional natural parks, sanctuaries, in protected areas, almost anything can now be done, except for the construction of linear objects, ecologists say.
"It is clear that in vague formulations" backbone infrastructure "is catching its goldfish business, interested in obtaining funds for the construction of this infrastructure, which thus wants to reduce their costs at the expense of the environment", - said a representative of Greenpeace.
Environmental expertise, among other things, ensured the right of citizens to receive information about what is planned to be done on the territory. The adopted bill "On the specifics of regulation of certain relations in order to modernize and expand the main infrastructure and on amendments to certain legislative acts of the Russian Federation" deprives residents of the opportunity to influence environmentally significant decisions. In particular, Baikal can now be built up without public hearings.
Citizens, despite the rubbery wording, are quite clear about the consequences of such laws adopted by the Duma. Almost half a million people have subscribed to the Save Baikal petition on change.org. Another petition "Stop the cutting of Baikal" - in just a month, more than 155 thousand citizens supported.
“The government has prepared amendments to the Law on the Protection of Lake Baikal, allowing the Russian Railways (RZD) to carry out clear cuttings for the expansion of the Baikal-Amur and Trans-Siberian Railways. <…> The draft law was developed in pursuance of the President's instructions for the implementation of the modernization project of the BAM and Transsib. An exception has been made to the law on the protection of the lake, which allows the implementation of the activities necessary to increase the capacity of the BAM / Transsib. This amendment makes it possible, during the construction and reconstruction of railway facilities, to transfer forest lands to other categories of land and then carry out clear cutting.
Deforestation in Russia is of catastrophic proportions. Irreparable damage to the environment is caused. One of the main victims is Lake Baikal: the disappearance of the forest along the banks of rivers flowing into it is an important reason for the shallowing of the "great sea" observed in recent years. Stop deforestation of Lake Baikal! Save the heritage of Russia and the cleanest lake on Earth! " - says the petition.
The Ministry of Transport and Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin are called the main lobbyists for removing the clause on state expertise from the law. At the same time, Nikolay Nikolayev, Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Natural Resources, Property and Land Relations of the State Duma, was appointed the official speaker on the topic. He explained the decision of the deputies on clear cutting in protected natural areas of the forest with a great benefit for Russia and... for some reason, China - countries that are establishing trade routes to Europe...
“To expand the BAM, you need to remove a strip of wood. I would like to remind you that, according to the adopted law on compulsory reforestation, this strip must be planted on the territory of this region without fail. Initially, this railway was built as a highway that connects the Far East with Central Russia. And this is the only such highway”, - said the deputy.
The second important consequence of the law is the unregulation of this very “strip of forest” that is being cut down.
“In the tunnels on the BAM, they want to make a double-track road from a single track, to export more coal. The export routes of the Transsib are also fully involved. Selfish interests of companies, capitalization, nothing personal. At the same time, the prospects for Europe are bleak, I must say that Europe consumes less coal and is switching to low-carbon technologies. Siberian companies are reorienting themselves to Asia - our coal strategy promises a twofold increase in exports here. They take out the next portions of resources and at the same time completely hammered into nature, on Baikal, the forests will be cut down, and the same Asia, in 10 years, perhaps, coal will not be needed at all either. But Japan is taking, South Korea is taking - strike while the iron is hot. Our business has not been living with the prospect for more than 4 years, and there at least the grass will not grow, ”- Natalya Zubarevich, economist-geographer, professor of Moscow State University, comments for NI.
The professor draws parallels with the ecological conflict unfolding right now in the largest national park in Russia "Yugyd Va", included in the UNESCO World Natural Heritage List (Komi Republic). Since 2004, industrialists have tried countless times to carve out 2 million hectares from the very center of the national park for gold mining, but so far the court has suppressed these aspirations.
On August 15 of this year, Acting Head Vladimir Uyba, at a meeting with political parties, announced the resumption of gold mining at the Chudny deposit. The head of the region referred to the "tough order" of the Deputy Prime Minister of Russia Yuri Trutnev.
“There is a tough order from [Deputy Prime Minister] Trutnev: the Ministry of Natural Resources will issue a conclusion until August 31, we are supervising it now that there is no connection with Yugyd VA, these are completely different stories. The borders of the "national park" will be shifted 100 percent. And this is not just a matter of mining, it will be a mining and processing plant", - Novaya Gazeta quotes him.
“Vice Prime Minister Trutnev demanded from the governor in the very center of the world-class national park “Yugyd va”, in the very center of the object protected by“ UNESCO ”, to organize dumps, tailings of concentration plants. This is not an isolated case, this is a system! Well, let's cut a hole, think about it. “Yugyd va” will be worse than Lake Baikal”, - says Natalya Zubarevich.
It is cynical to scoff at environmental legislation in an economically difficult period, a crisis for Russia and the whole world, is like announcing "new Shies", political scientists believe.
Kushtau, Baikal, Yugyd va and other objects that can be included in the list of the government will undoubtedly become household names and the personification of not only environmental, but also political protest, says ecologist, chairman of the Yabloko party Nikolai Rybakov.
“Where did these hot spots come from? With coronavirus, Putin is asking the government to develop a plan to rescue the economy. But instead of ensuring the inviolability of environmental legislation in this difficult period, realizing that the story of the coronavirus is a story entirely about unwanted human intervention in nature, instead of a global understanding of these truths, the Cabinet issues a plan that is the result of a sports competition - and who quickly from business will run to the White House and report his need ... In the regions, top officials, instead of acting as defenders of environmental legislation and natural objects, also rushed to protect the interests of business, says the ecologist.
According to him, another bill is now being submitted to the State Duma, which will allow changing the boundaries of specially protected natural areas for the sake of mining.
“Baikal will certainly become a symbol of protest. It can be compared with the history during the Olympics, when citizens were allowed to seize private land for the construction of sports facilities. The weakening of environmental legislation is throwing the country back. While the entire civilized world is now racking its brains over technologies that reduce the negative impact on the environment, we are still going an extensive path, predatory destruction of nature”, - adds Rybakov.
Environmentalists and political scientists believe that such an attitude towards UNESCO World Heritage Sites also leads to Russia's reputational losses in the international arena.
The organization requires reports from Russia and sends formal letters of concern every two years. With a very high probability, given the continuing environmental trends in Russia, such natural areas as Lake Baikal will be included in the lists of World Heritage in Danger at the international level. Such shameful processes make the country related only to the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Honduras...