Consultant: Bulgarian government’s green strategy is ‘hollow’

Despite professing environmental intentions, the Bulgarian government's green strategy has so far been ''completely hollow'' and companies are better adapting to EU environmental laws than the authorities, Boyan Rashev, managing partner at the Bulgarian office of sustainable development consultancy 'denkstatt', told Dnevnik – EURACTIV's partner in Bulgaria – in an interview.

Sustainable development consultancy 'denkstatt' is involved in many projects in Bulgaria, including gold mining by Canadian Dundee Precious Metals in the towns of Chelopech and Krumovgrad, the 'Super Borovets' resort in the Rila mountains and Coca-Cola factory projects.

It also works with the Bulgarian Ministry of Environment and Water.

Boyan Rashev is managing partner at the Bulgarian office of 'denkstatt'.

He was speaking to Dnevnik's Milen Entchev.

Did the process of joining the EU raise the environmental discipline of companies in Bulgaria to European standards, or is this only wishful thinking?

The greatest impact of the accession process was felt when the environment negotiation chapters were opened in 2000. In my opinion, more work was done during the preparations for membership than has been done since. The change in the country is huge but it was not completed on 1 January 2007. It is still going on and personally I get less and less impressed when certain factories reach the standards for harmful emissions.

From my point of view, state authorities find it much harder to adapt to EU regulations than companies do. Besides, the state uses double standards in making businesses keep to the rules – Bulgarian companies are not required to do as much as Western investors, who must be absolutely perfect.

Which branches of the industry were most influenced by changes to environmental legislation?

The heavy industries: mining, metallurgy, cement production and the chemical industry. I think that the environmental issue is one of the main reasons why 'Kremikovtsi' – the biggest steel factory in Bulgaria – died. In the course of many years, the managers did nothing to comply with environmental laws.

All the heavy industries bore a bad heritage and most of them were privatised. If it was not for the foreign investments and new technologies that cleaned up production according to the new rules, there would now be no legal way for them to keep working.

And companies which are still state property are falling behind the private ones in terms of environmental sustainability. Heat plants and coal power plants are perfect evidence: how could it be that none of the heat plants in Sofia have facilities for the combined production of heat and electricity? It is only so because they are still state-owned. If all of these plants were equipped with such facilities – as they are in many European countries – we would probably not need a new nuclear power plant.

Keeping in mind the number and capacity of the heat plants in the city, Sofia hides a potential of about 1000 MW of electricity from such co-generation. This is half the capacity of the planned Belene nuclear power plant. The governmental authorities are obviously unable to make the necessary investments for heat plants in the capital, so in my opinion the only way these plants can be upgraded is by selling them to private companies.

Did the establishment of 'NATURA 2000' protected areas curb chaotic construction on the coast and in the mountains?

No, I have not noticed an improvement. The membership of Bulgaria actually strongly contributed to the building process, because as part of the EU, Bulgaria is accepted as more reliable for foreign investments. In fact, the recession – not the membership – stopped the building balloon growing.

And I don't think that the European Commission should solve such internal problems in Bulgaria. They are problems for the Bulgarian government and society and if they let such things happen, they will keep happening.

Would it toughen discipline if some of the infringement procedures against Bulgaria led to fines for the country?

Who could we discipline this way? The government does not care. In my opinion, the proper way to improve discipline is to find the people in the administration who are responsible for signing all the decisions that brought the procedures and punish them.

How did all the new foreign companies coming to Bulgaria affect the industry in environmental terms? Did they bring know-how and more eco-friendly work standards, or did they get out of hand according to local habits?

All of them got out of hand to some extent. When a foreign company steps into Bulgaria, it brings technologies and ways of doing things, but the most important that they come with is ethics. A lot of Bulgarian businessmen have no ethics – many local companies try to reach the standards required by the law on paper, but actually evade the requirements.

So becoming more neglectful is inevitable. Some could not get a single permission after five years of working the normal way. So they reach a moment when our local reality forces them to use the same methods, which are normal here.

For example, Chelopech mining – owned by Dundee Precious Metals, who we are working with – are about to abandon their plan for cyanide technology for gold mining in the town of Chelopech. After they were not allowed to pursue it for some years, they bought a factory in Namibia. It would be much better if the ore was being manufactured here in Bulgaria, thus raising the value. This is both an economic nonsense and an environmental one, if we calculate the carbon emissions of the transport to Namibia.

NGOs that are against cyanide use would probably say that the economic value would come with costs for nature and human health here.

In my opinion, those NGOs who exaggerate the risk related to cyanide technologies are doing a disservice to the civil society sector.

There was a cyanide leakage in the River Trent in the UK a few months ago. Obviously there is no guarantee that when you use these chemicals…

That leakage was not from a mine, it was from a sewage system. Globally, cyanides are used much more in water purification or unfreezing roads than in gold mining.

The favourite example of the anti-cyanide group here is the Baia Mare case (Baia Mare is a city in Romania where a devastating cyanide leak occurred in January 2000). It is not correct though – the concentration of cyanides there was huge as they were recovering metals from the waste, but cyanide treatment projects here in Bulgaria are much smaller.

What is your view on the panic about a new bill on genetically-modified organisms (GMOs)?

[In the end the Bulgarian parliament did not lift the GMO bans as proposed by the government, and actually toughened them. The environment ministry stated that the two EU directives on GMOs do not allow such bans and require case-by-case treatment for GMO permissions.]

In this case, the Bulgarian government claimed that it would only harmonise the law with the EU directives. Bulgarian state authorities cannot yet understand that they should use their heads and not just comply with something. When the authorities have to explain why they do a certain thing, the easiest way is to say that this is what EU told us to do.

In fact, each directive gives the possibility to individual countries to implement it in the most adequate way. I am not aware so far of such creative thinking in Bulgaria in implementing community environmental legislation. It is high time for the government to show that it really thinks green. Simple steps are needed – for example, the ministries could stop buying huge vehicles and jeeps with high fuel consumption.

Green public procurement has never been carried out in Bulgaria. The government does not make any conditions for green practices and does not tolerate the voluntary actions of businesses in this direction. And if a company going beyond the environmental requirements does not get anything in return – neither from the government, nor from society – why should it do so?

In other words, you are claiming that the government's declarations about a 'Green Bulgaria' strategy are hollow?

Yes, they are completely hollow so far. The government has written a kind of declaration – in a nutshell, the green fashion has been taken on board by the authorities. In my understanding Bulgaria will be 'green' when it becomes a motor of European environmental legislation, when the country starts proposing environmental standards for Germany, for instance. When the ministry for ecology has calculated its own greenhouse emission footprint and starts to reduce it. Only then could we speak of a Green Bulgaria.

Another example: the government talks about energy efficiency but public buildings are a mark of energy inefficiency. This includes the building of the executive environmental agency: this building is the worst example of energy inefficiency, even though it is in this building that the inventory of nationwide greenhouse gas emissions is made every year.


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