Preventing environmental damage

Environmental damage

Environmental damage is usually defined as damage caused by a sudden incident where an environmentally harmful substance or energy enters or may enter the environment. Environmental damage may occur due to an accident or negligence, but it may also be caused over a longer period of time when an environmentally harmful substance leaks slowly into the environment. Environmental damage may affect e.g. the soil, air, natural environment, surface waters and groundwater, and it may pose a risk to human health.

The Ministry of the Environment is responsible for the preparation, coordination and implementation of matters concerning environmental risks and for preventing environmental risks from the perspective of environmental protection.

Oil and chemical spills

Oil and chemical spills are typical types of environmental damage. They comprise vessel oil and chemical spills in maritime and coastal areas and inland waters and oil and chemical spills on land.

The Ministry of the Environment guides, monitors and develops post-oil spill cleanup and recovery operations and the prevention of chemical spills and post-spill operations for these within its sphere of activities. If necessary, the municipalities are responsible for cleanup and recovery operations in their territories, assisted by different municipal authorities and institutes.

Combating oil and chemical spills

The responsibility for combating environmental damage on open see rests with the Border Guard, and in coastal areas and inland waters and on land with the rescue departments.

The Finnish Environment Institute and Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment provide experts assistance to combating damage led by the Border Guard and rescue departments, and to post-spill cleanup and recovery operations led by the municipalities.

Post-spill cleanup and recovery operations for oil and chemical spills

The Ministry of the Environment will initiate and prepare a legislative project concerning post-spill cleanup and recovery operations for oil and chemical spills and the organisation of waste management. The project is based on the obligation to move the provisions concerning the post-spill operations from the Rescue Act to a relevant act in the administrative branch of the Ministry of the Environment. The aim is to specify and clarify the legislation on post-spill operations and its application to oil and chemical spills. The project is implemented in close cooperation with the Department for Rescue Services of the Ministry of the Interior, Border Guard and other relevant stakeholders. The government proposal is to be submitted to Parliament by the end of 2021.

Competence of authorities in seriously dangerous situations 

Provisions on specific administrative enforcement in emergency situations are laid down in section 182a of the Environmental Protection Act. The section entered into force on 1 January 2019. The State supervisory authority may on its own initiative undertake measures to prevent or restrict environmental pollution that are not rescue operations referred to in section 32 of the Rescue Act.
The condition for this is that an activity involving a risk of environmental pollution causes or may cause serious danger or harm to health or the environment, and the party responsible for the activity cannot be established without delay or the party concerned is actually incapable to act to the extent that the regular administrative enforcement procedure under section 175 of the Environmental Protection Act cannot be applied. 

The costs arising from such measures will be collected from the party responsible for the activity. The aim is to ensure that, in the event of a serious environmental accident, unclear responsibilities or insolvency will not be an obstacle to taking the necessary measures to prevent and restrict pollution.

Secondary liability for environmental damage

The purpose of the secondary liability systems for environmental damage is to prepare for the management of environmental risks, compensating for environmental damage, and taking restoration measures in cases where the responsible party is insolvent, unknown or unavailable. The secondary liability systems applied in Finland are the environmental damage insurance, which is mandatory to certain operators, and the Oil Pollution Compensation Fund. Central government budget funds have been used as the last resort. The secondary liability systems also include the support system with a maximum amount of funding allocated in the State budget that is intended, in particular, for analysing the level of contamination and for cleanup of old contaminated sites. The municipalities also provide funding for soil and groundwater restoration in old contaminated sites.

The Ministry of the Environment has launched a legislative project to develop the secondary liability systems. The aim for the new system is that the operators would manage their environmental obligations as far as possible without financial intervention by the State. The government proposal for amending the secondary liability systems is to be submitted to Parliament in 2022.

Significant environmental damage – Environmental Liability Directive

The Environmental Liability Directive (2004/35/EC) lays down provisions on preventing and remedying significant environmental damage. In the Directive environmental damage means damage to protected species, natural habitats, water and land that has significant adverse effects. The threshold for significance with respect to each type of damage has been set very high. According to the Directive, e.g. land damage is significant if it creates a risk to human health . 

The Environmental Liability Directive has been implemented in Finland by several statutes. The competent authority is determined in accordance with the act applicable in each specific case. This means that the competent authority may be the Centre for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment, Regional State Administrative Agency or Board for Gene Technology.

So far, the provisions on preventing and remedying significant environmental damage under the Environmental Liability Directive have been applied in very few cases in Finland.

Based on the Environmental Liability Directive, the Commission is now preparing guidelines related to the concept of environmental damage. The guidelines should be ready in the beginning of 2021.
 

More information

Minna Valtavaara, Senior Specialist 
Ministry of the Environment, Environmental Protection Department, Päästöt ja ympäristöriskit 0295250170  


Laura Siili-Hakkarainen, Senior Specialist, Legal Affairs 
Ministry of the Environment, Environmental Protection Department, Päästöt ja ympäristöriskit 0295250411  


Mari-Linda Harju-Oksanen, erityisasijantuntija 
Ministry of the Environment, Environmental Protection Department, Päästöt ja ympäristöriskit 0295250554  


Katariina Haavanlammi, Senior Ministerial Adviser, Legislative Affairs 
Ministry of the Environment, Environmental Protection Department, Päästöt ja ympäristöriskit 0295250072