Tougher penalties for environmental destruction. , “Poland will not be the dumping ground of Europe”.
The Ministry of Climate and Environment, in cooperation with the Ministry of Justice and the Chief Inspectorate of Environmental Protection, has prepared a draft amendment to the law on environmental crimes. As Deputy Minister of Climate and Environment Jacek Ozdoba announced at a press conference on December 8, 2021, penalties are to be tightened and their enforcement much easier than at present.
The proposed law will make it easier to hold collective entities accountable for environmental destruction
The amendment will make it possible to simultaneously prosecute collective entities responsible for environmental destruction (e.g., commercial companies) along with their presidents or managers. Currently, there is a condition for such liability in the form of a prior final conviction of an individual for committing environmental crimes. In other words, under the current state of the law, an individual, such as the company’s president, must first be validly convicted of the offense in order for the company itself to be liable for environmental destruction. Moreover, for those who destroy the environment, the minimum limit of the fine they face will be raised – from PLN 1,000 to PLN 10,000. On the other hand, the upper limit of the fine, which is currently PLN 5 million, will be linked to the amount of income of the entity in question.
Higher penalties for environmental crimes
Penalties for littering public places will also be increased. According to the announced amendment to the Code of Offenses, the penalty for littering public places, fields and forests is to be increased from PLN 500 to PLN 5,000. As Deputy Minister Ozdoba stressed, , “there is no social consensus to litter our planet, our forests, so this penalty must be high. In addition, the new legislation will also allow for an obligation to be imposed on the perpetrator of such an offense to clean up the littered area.
The draft also calls for raising the lower and upper limits of the statutory threat for environmental offenses, including those under Articles 183 and 185 of the Criminal Code concerning illegal waste management, from 5 to 10 years of imprisonment. In addition, as announced, a new type of criminal act involving the storage of hazardous materials will be created, punishable by 2 to 12 years’ imprisonment. A similar sanction will be imposed for the illegal import of hazardous waste into Poland, which will mainly hit large companies. The proposed amendment to the regulations is mainly a reaction to the increase in environmental crimes that has been visible in recent years.
Fraudsters usually operate according to a simple scheme. A contract with the owner is signed by an ad hoc company, unofficially cooperating with the fraudulent entity. The leased land is filled with waste in a short period of time, and then the company goes out of business, leaving the problem to the owner, Minister Ozdoba describes. The Chief Inspectorate of Environmental Protection has so far identified about 900 such sites, he reports. The amendment also introduces mechanisms to encourage environmental offenders to remove the negative consequences of their acts. Against the perpetrators of the analyzed acts who have removed the negative effects of their criminal activity, the possibility of applying extraordinary leniency or even waiving the punishment will open up.
Increase in the amount of mandatory restitution
In addition to the increase in penalties, Article 47 § 2 of the Criminal Code is also to be amended, according to which, if the perpetrator is convicted of an intentional crime against the environment, the court will obligatorily order a reference payment of up to PLN 10 million to the National Fund for Environmental Protection and Water Management. When the crime is committed unintentionally, the adjudication of the reference will be optional. As noted by Deputy Minister Ozdoba, , “the cost of waste disposal in some places exceeds tens and hundreds of millions of zlotys. On a national scale, these are billions of zlotys, and environmental criminals for ten years paid one million zlotys to the Environmental Protection Fund from the nawiązki. This is a laughing stock, it’s time to put an end to this pathology. Now the reference will be gigantic, as it will be up to 10 million zlotys.”
Facilitated notification procedure
In order to facilitate the possibility of reporting cases of environmental destruction, an interactive form has been created on the website of the Chief Inspectorate of Environmental Protection, available at: www.gios.gov.pl/pl/zglos-interwencje-formularz. To report a violation of the law, e.g. an illegal landfill, it is sufficient to indicate the location and add a brief description, possibly including photos. Reports can also be made anonymously. According to the Ministry of Justice, to date 781 reports of, among other things, waste abandonment have been received via the form, of which 263 reports have been confirmed. Among other things, it has been possible to uncover sites of illegal storage of hazardous waste. Some of such sites, thanks to the actions of local governments, have already been cleaned up by the offenders.
– No more lenient penalties for environmental destroyers, article available on the Ministry of Justice website at:
https://www.gov.pl/web/sprawiedliwosc/koniec-z-lagodnymi-karami-dla-niszczacych-srodowisko?fbclid=IwAR1WVGjiYyeVTsc9WxcoOv4KlGLOuUGimTtcT8q6tLC5he219Dfs8dqBLh8 (accessed December 11, 2021).