Norway guarantees right to environmental information

The Norwegian Government has proposed a new Act that would grant its citizens legal rights to obtain environmental information from public authorities and private enterprises.

The Act on the Right to Environmental Information requires companies to produce environmental information to citizens upon request. All areas of economic activity are included (industry, services, agriculture and forestry), and citizens can inquire about everything from production processes to the content of the products that are used or sold.

Under the new Act, says Environment Minister Børge Brende, neighbours to a polluting business would have the right to know what substances the company was emitting and their effects on the environment. Paint dealers would have to answer questions about their products and farmers would have to provide information on the pesticides they used. The Act would enable people to check whether a product was made from endangered species or rare materials.

The proposed Act would also extend the right of citizens to obtain information about the environmental consequences of activities and decisions by public bodies, such as the environmental consequences of a transport plan or a particular road development. Public bodies would also have to make available general information about the environment so that the public could keep abreast of developing problems, for example in energy supply, fishing, land planning.

Information requested from public bodies would have to be provided within a very short deadline, a maximum of 15 days under the new Act. An appeals board would be set up to ensure the Act was complied with, particularly for private firms.

Brende is encouraging Norwegians to promote and use the new law actively. “If the new Act is to have any effect, it must be used,” he argues. “The Act will be important for environmental organisations and for the media in their efforts to disseminate information about issues of importance for the environment.”

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