FINLAND - ENVIRONMENTAL REGULATIONS
Finland is a Northern European country, bordering Russia, Sweden, Norway and the Baltic Sea. The country is one of the most sparsely populated in Europe; the majority of citizens reside in the southern part of Finland around Helsinki or other larger cities such as Tampere and Turku. Finland is one of the northernmost countries in the world. The top of the country sits in the Arctic Circle and in Finnish Lapland there can be permanent darkness in the winter months lasting for as long as 50 days.
Finland has a mostly lowland terrain, with flat rolling plains smattered by small hills and lake land. Finland has over 780 islands, many of which are populated. The country also has almost 200,000 lakes, including Lake Saimaa – Finland’s largest lake and the fourth largest freshwater lake in Europe. Over 70% of the country is covered by forest land, with common trees including the pine, spruce and birch. The country’s position in the boreal ecosystem, results in a climate characterised by extremely cold winters and warm summers. Notable animals of Finland includes wolves, wolverines, bears, reindeer, white tailed eagles, lynx and ermine.
Due to the country’s logging industry and overgrazing of reindeer, Finland’s ecosystems have suffered some damage, but the country is recognised to be a world leader in many aspects of environmental protection. Whilst attention is being paid to the development of green technology for environmental reasons, extensive efforts to combat climate change will prove critical to the protection of Finland’s biodiversity.
PRINCIPAL LEGISLATION AND REGULATOR
The regulatory framework for environmental matters in Finland has been updated in recent years with amendments to many of the Finnish environmental laws. The current legislation of relevance to the mining industry includes: the Environmental Protection Act 2014 (EPA) (amended to 2019); Decree on Environmental Protection 2014 (EP Decree) (amended to 2019); Act on Environmental Impact Assessment Procedure 2017 (EIA Act); and the Decree on Environmental Impact Assessment Procedure 2017 (EIA Decree). Environmental factors also feature in the provisions of the Mining Act 2011 (MA) and the Decree on Mining Activities 2012 (Mining Decree).
EIA matters in Finland are overseen by Centres for Economic Development, Transport and the Environment (ELY Centres) (s. 10, EIA Act) of which there are 15 in Finland. According to the government website, the centres come under the administrative branches of the Ministry of Housing, Energy and the Environment (Ministry of Environment), Ministry of Transport and Communications, Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry, Ministry of Education and Culture and the Ministry of Interior. ELY Centres in Finland are the competent authorities for the supervision and control of EIA procedures and the issuance of decisions on environmental impact matters (s. 13, EIA Act). ELY Centres also act as the state authority for environmental permitting for activities which are considered to have a significant environmental impact (ss. 21 & 34, EPA; see also s. 1, EP Decree). Activities outside of those handled by the relevant ELY Centre are dealt with at the municipal level (s. 2, EP Decree; see also ss. 22 & 34, EPA). The Ministry of Environment is responsible for general governance and supervision of the implementation of the laws and the general development of the EIA and environmental activities (see s. 21, EPA and s. 32, EIA Act).
According to the EPA and EP Decree, mining and mineral production activities require an environmental permit (see Ch. 4, s. 27, EPA and Appendix 1, EPA; see also s. 7, EP Decree). The EPA and EP Decree provide the legal terms on environmental permits, whilst the EIA Act and EIA Decree outline the specific requirements for the EIA process itself. Generally speaking, exploration activities will not require a permit or an EIA, but, under the terms of the MA, will require a waste management plan and restorative measures post-field work (s. 34, MA). The waste management plan includes considerable detail on environmental impacts (see ss. 13 and 15, MA); information on the environmental impacts of the proposed activities are also outlined as part of the permit application criteria (see s. 34 (6), MA). TUKES will request statements from the relevant government bodies responsible for the environment when permit applications are made, which may result in certain conditions on environmental matters being attached to the exploration permit (see s. 37, MA). That being said, the EIA Act does allow the ELY Centre to judge projects on a case by case basis (see below), so there is no guarantee that large-scale exploration activities will not be subject to an EIA.
As noted above, the relevant ELY centre will be the contact authority for the EIA process. If the project falls into the jurisdiction of more than one ELY centre the authorities shall reach agreement on which centre will serve as the contact authority (s. 10, EIA Act).
Project proponents are responsible for ensuring that there is access to sufficient expertise in the preparation of an EIA programme and in carrying out the EIA itself. A project manager must be appointed for the EIA and their expertise shall be assessed by the ELY Centre when carrying out reviews and assessments (s. 33, EIA Act).
According to section 3, EIA Act, projects listed under Appendix 1 are subject to the EIA procedure provided for under the terms of the law. An updated Appendix in the form of a Project List was issued by the Minister of Housing, Energy and the Environment in January 2019, entering into force on February 1 2019. In terms of mining, the following projects are listed under Appendix 1, thus subject to the EIA procedure:
- Mining in an area of 25 hectares or more;
- Mining with a total quantity of at least 550,000 tonnes of removable material per year;
- Quarry mining in an area of 25 hectares or more or when at least 200,000 solid cubic metres per year is taken;
- Asbestos mining;
- Uranium and thorium mining, treatment and enrichment;
- Peat production in an area of more than 150 hectares; or
- Activities where forest, marshland or wetland of an area of more than 200 hectares which is considered to be homogenous is permanently altered. (see Appendix 1, section 2).
Projects other than those specified in Appendix 1 may also be subject to the EIA process on a case by case basis (s. 3, EIA Act). Such decisions will be taken by the ELY Centre. If the project is in more than one ELY Centre’s area, the Ministry of Environment shall decide which ELY Centre shall be responsible for the decision, based on the project’s location and the resources of the ELY Centres. The Ministry of Environment shall be responsible for ensuring that the planning and implementation of the project is separated from the tasks of the competent authority so as impartiality is not compromised (s. 11, EIA Act). In order for the decision to be taken certain information on the project must be submitted (s. 12, EIA Act). Under the terms of the EIA Decree this information is to include: a description of the project, including a physical description and a description of the location, specifically any environmentally sensitive areas; a description of the environmental aspects and any significant environmental effects; and a description of the environmental impacts which may arise from the predicted emissions, waste and / or the use of natural resources (s. 1, EIA Decree). In reaching a decision the ELY Centre will consider the factors identified under Appendix 2 of the EIA Act, including the characteristics of the project, the location of the project and the type of consequences (Appendix 2, EIA Act; see also s. 2, EIA Decree). Decisions on the application of the EIA to an individual project may be appealed pursuant to section 37, EIA Act.
Prior to the commencement of the EIA process, the relevant ELY Centre may organise a preliminary consultation in co-operation with the project proponent and the central authorities. The preliminary consultation serves as an opportunity to exchange information on the project, facilitate the necessary investigations and create a smooth running process for the EIA (s. 8, EIA Act).
The EIA procedure is summarised under section 14, EIA Act, with six aspects contemplated. The description below details the procedure in full. According to the EIA Act, the environmental consequences of a project must be reviewed at the earliest possible stage of planning and must be available when decisions on permits (in this case an environmental permit and mining permit) are being taken (s. 15, EIA Act).
In the fist instance, the project manager must submit an EIA programme and to the ELY Centre. (s. 16, EIA Act). The EIA Programme must contain:
- A description of the project, including its purpose, design, location, size, land use needs, involvement with other projects, information on the project manager and an estimate planning and implementation schedule;
- Reasonable alternatives to the project, one of which is non-execution of the project (unless there is a specific reason that this is unnecessary);
- Information on the plans and permits required for the project;
- A description of the state and development of the area of influence;
- A proposal on the environmental impacts identified and assessed and a justification of the EIA;
- Information on the proposed and planned environmental impact studies;
- Information on the qualifications of the authors of the assessment programme; and
- A plan for organising the assessment procedure and the completion of the evaluation report (see s. 3, EIA Decree).
Upon submission of the EIA Programme, the ELY Centre shall allow for statements and opinions to be submitted, including from the municipality (or municipalities) in which the project is based (s. 17, EIA Act). The EIA Programme shall be announced on the website of the ELY Centre and on the websites of the relevant municipalities. A notice shall also be printed in at least one newspaper with circulation in the project’s influence area. Announcements and notices must contain sufficient information on the project and its environmental consequences, as well as on how more information can be obtained and how opinions may be submitted. Opinions must be submitted by the deadline stated, which shall be 30 days from publication or 60 days in special cases (s. 17, EIA Act; see also s. 5, EIA Decree).
Within one month of the expiry date for opinions to be submitted on the EIA Programme, the ELY Centre shall give a statement on the programme. The statement shall decide on the scope and accuracy of the EIA Programme and must make clear how necessary investigations can be co-ordinated with the requirements under other laws (s. 18, EIA Act). The statement must also contain a summary on the opinions submitted. The statement shall be passed to the project manager, the relevant authorities and published on the ELY’s website (s. 18, EIA Act).
The project manager must then compile an EIA based on the EIA Programme and the statement from the ELY Centre. The EIA must contain the information specified under section 4, EIA Decree, including (amongst other information): a full and detailed description of the project; information on the project manager, the planning and implementation schedule, the project plans and the required permits; plans for protection of the environment and land-use matters; a description of the existing environment and its likely development if the project is not implemented; an assessment of the possible accidents and emergencies, including mitigation and prevention measures; an assessment and description of the environmental impacts; a comparison of the environmental impact of alternative measures; a proposal for measures to avoid, prevent, limit or eliminate significant adverse environmental impacts; environmental monitoring proposals; and a generalised and illustrative summary of the information contained in the EIA (s. 4, EIA Decree). The assessment and description of likely environmental impacts must cover the direct, indirect, cumulative, short, medium and long-term, permanent, temporary, positive and negative impacts of the project (s. 4, EIA Decree).
A hearing will then be held on the EIA by the ELY Centre and the process noted above in relation to the submission of opinions shall apply (s. 20, EIA Act). In this case the window to submit opinions must last a minimum of 30 days and a maximum 60 days (s. 20, EIA Act).
The ELY shall check the adequacy and quality of the EIA and compile a reasoned opinion on the project’s significant impact. The reasoned opinion shall be passed on to the project manager within two months from the opinion submission deadline. The conclusion must include a summary of other statements and opinions on the EIA. The reasoned opinion must also be submitted to the authorities that deal with the project, to the municipalities within the project’s influence area and must be published on the ELY Centre’s website (s. 23. EIA Act).
Where the EIA is found to be deficient and the ELY Centre cannot reach a reasoned conclusion, the project manager will be notified of the need to supplement the EIA. Another hearing will then be held after a new EIA is completed and the ELY Centre shall then issue a reasoned conclusion (s. 24, EIA Act).
The outcome of the EIA must be considered during the project permitting procedures (see below) and the EIS and conclusion of the ELY Centre must be attached to the application for an environmental permit and mining permit (s. 25, EIA Act). A permit for implementation of the project shall not be granted without the necessary environmental documentation (s. 25, EIA Act). Permitting decisions must take into account the hearings and conclusions on the EIS. Provisions are made to ensure the conclusion of the ELY Centre is up to date when the licensing authorities reach a decision on a permit (s. 27, EIA Act). The ELY Centre has the right to raise an objection to a permit decision on the basis that the EIA has not been concluded or was flawed (s. 34, EIA Act). Other parties who have the right to object to permitting decisions under existing Finnish laws can reference the inadequacy of an EIA or the failure to carry out an EIA in an appeal (s. 34, EIA Act). The decision of the competent authority to refuse an environmental permit may be appealed under the EPA Act (s. 190, EPA).
The costs of the EIA are to be borne by the project proponent, including the costs related to hearings and announcements. The ELY’s statement on the EIA Programme and reasoned conclusion on the EIA are subject to a fee (s. 38, EIA Act).
Note that the EIA Act also contains specific provisions on regulatory co-operation, as well as on cross-border projects involving multiple jurisdictions.
The EIA Act states that anyone responsible for a project in Finland other than those exposed to the EIA process e.g. exploration activities, must be sufficiently aware of the project’s environmental consequences to the extent that can be reasonably foreseen (s. 31, EIA Act).
Environmental Permitting Process
Mining activities which require an environmental permit are listed under Appendix 1 of the EPA. Certain other activities may also require an environmental permit due to factors such as the risk of groundwater pollution or where the need for an EIA has been determined under the EIA Act (see. ss. 27 – 29, EPA).
According to the EP Decree, the ELY Centre shall be responsible for environmental permitting in relation to mining activities (s. 1(7), EP Decree). The authorisation procedure for an environmental permit is clearly stated under the terms of the law.
Firstly, an application must be submitted to the relevant ELY Centre in both written and electronic form (s. 39, EPA). The requirements for the application are stated under section 39, EPA and expanded upon under sections 3-7, EP Decree. In summary, the application must contain information on the activities, the parties concerned, information on operations and an overview of the various potential environmental impacts the project may have. As noted above, where an EIA has been conducted, the application must be accompanied by the EIA Report and the reasoned conclusion of the ELY Centre before a decision on the environmental permit is taken (s. 39, EPA). Meetings can be sought with the relevant ELY Centre and guidance on the application process and requirements can also be requested (s. 39a, EPA). Applicants will be given time to complete applications where they are deemed incomplete or require further clarification (s. 40, EPA).
In reaching a decision on the application, the ELY Centre will seek an opinion from various parties as necessary, including public interest authorities, municipal authorities, health authorities and the Sámi Parliament (if applicable) (s. 42, EPA). TUKES opinion shall also be sought (s. 12(2), EP Decree). A notice on the application must be issued with a duration of at least 30 days via notice boards in the area, the ELY’s website and in a newspaper. Application documentation and a summary of the application must also be made available (s. 44, EPA; see also s. 11, EP Decree).
The ELY Centre must examine the conditions for granting the environmental permit and must take into account the opinions and remarks received in relation to the application. A permit must be granted if the application complies with the terms of the EPA and the accompanying decrees, as well as other applicable laws (s. 48, EPA; see also s. 83). Environmental permits shall not be granted where the conditions set out under section 49 apply (s. 49, EPA). Decisions shall be sent to the project proponent and will also be published online (s. 83 – 85). The requirements for the content of the ELY’s permit decision, authorisation decision and the project proponent’s notification are set out under sections 14 – 15a, EP Decree. A security requirement may form part of the environmental permit.
Environmental monitoring provisions are included within the EPA and EP Decree and additional terms may be included in the permit. Permits are deemed to remain in force until further notice (s. 87, EPA) but may lapse or be withdrawn in accordance with sections 88 & 93, EPA.
Note that special terms on mining waste management are set out under the EPA (see. ss. 111 – 115).