A Russian environmental-law group has filed a lawsuit asking Russia’s Supreme Court to invalidate a decree signed by President Vladimir Putin in May abolishing the government’s State Committee on Environmental Protection and the Russian Forest Service, an international legal organization said Tuesday.
The decree transfers the agencies’ functions to the Ministry of Natural Resources.
The suit was brought by the group Ecojuris Institute on behalf of several Russian environmental protection organizations and charges that Putin’s May 17 decree violates several articles of the Constitution, including the public’s right to a healthy environment, and violates federal law.
The environmental groups have protested the closing of the state committee and the transfer of its powers. The Ministry of Natural Resources is primarily responsible for issuing licenses and permits for large-scale oil and gas development and commercial exploitation of Russia’s natural resources, including mining, logging and use of water reserves.
The ministry has set up an “environmental impact” office to conduct assessments of environmental impact — meaning that the same body will both issue licenses for activities potentially damaging to the environment and assess whether damage has been done.
The ministry’s powers have also been expanded, giving it the power to approve permits to import and dispose of radioactive waste, a lucrative business for Russia.
Russian environmentalists point out that the state committee last year denied approval of documents presented by U.S.-based oil giant Exxon because the company planned to dump waste from oil-drilling activities in the sea. After Exxon complained to the Russian government that the committee was creating an “unjustifiable delay” to the development plans, the government approved a waiver of the environmental law.
Ecojuris urged the Russian Supreme Court to overturn the waiver, and the court granted the request.
According to Erika Rosenthal of the Earthjustice Legal Defense Fund, the international group that announced its Russian counterpart’s lawsuit, the challenge to the waiver granted to Exxon “marked the first time that Russian citizens demanded successfully that their government apply environmental laws to transnational corporations.”
“Exxon believed they were above the law, but the Supreme Court showed that democratic institutions have taken root in Russia,” Rosenthal said in a statement. “The current suit gives the court the opportunity to demonstrate that President Putin, too, must abide by the rule of law, and to uphold citizens’ constitutional rights to a healthy environment, and to participate in environmental decision-making.”