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Following recent calls from the European Commission for many breaches of environmental laws to be classed as criminal offences (see related story), Portugal has announced a major crackdown on “eco-crimes”, replacing legislation which was so unclear that penalties were not applied. Under the new rules, announced by junior environment minister Rui Goncalves, the maximum fine for pollution has been raised from 9 million escudos (£28,000) to 500 million escudos (£15,5 million) and prison terms of up to three years have been prescribed in certain cases.

Although prison for ‘environmental crimes’ was previously possible, the definition of what constituted this type of crime was so imprecise that it was very seldom applied. Now, by specifying that a serious industrial accident which causes serious damage to the environment, or not adopting preventative measures against accidents counting as environmental crimes, Goncalves hopes to secure many more convictions. Spills which cause the death of any protected species will also be covered by the legislation.

In upgrading the rules, Goncalves admitted the laxity of the previous penalties. “The present limit [for fines] is very low and, in the majority of cases, it ends up being more rewarding economically for firms to spill pollutants in our waters and to later pay a fine,” he said.

The ministry has also announced a crackdown on waste oils, forcing companies to pay for their recycling and facilitating their collection. Jose Socrates, the environment minister, announced the new rules to crackdown on the illegal burning of waste oils, a widespread practice.

Enviroil will be the first plant to recycle oils in Portugal with a capacity of 16,000 tonnes per year. Eighty percent of the waste oil will be converted into useable fuel, the ministry said.

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