Russia: Putin eliminates environment protection agency

Russia's 30,000 employees of the State Committee for Environmental Protection (SCEP) are said to be in shock following president Vladimir Putin's announcement that the SCEP has been abolished.

The SCEP is one of several federal agencies to be abolished in an administrative overhaul. Its duties will be performed by the Ministry of Natural Resources, which currently issues licenses for natural resource extraction.

“At first I couldn’t believe the news,” Thomas Neilson of Norway’s Bellona Foundation, told edie. Bellona is an NGO that keeps a close eye on Russian nuclear safety.

According to Neilson, the decision has surprised SCEP employees, who include all of the country’s national park rangers charged with preventing illegal logging and poaching. The 30,000 employees have been given two months’ pay.

“Putin should have done the exact opposite from what he has decided,” says Neilson, arguing that now is the time to increase environmental protection.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD) agrees. Last year, the OECD published an assessment of Russia’s environmental performance and concluded that environmental trends in Russia are worrying in every area from air quality to rates of illness from water-borne disease, and that increased powers and funding should be given to environmental regulatory authorities (see related story).

Neilson points out that the decision has international ramifications, giving the example of the annual meeting of the Norwegian/ Russian Environmental Commission, which was planned for this week. The Norwegian delegates cancelled their trip when they heard that their Russian counterparts no longer had jobs.

“The Nuclear Control Agency is the only one that is not affected by this decision, thankfully,” says Neilson. “It’s never been under the authority of the SCEP.”

Greenpeace Russia condemned the abolition of the SCEP and held a press conference with the former chair of the SCEP. Greenpeace Russia describes the Ministry of Natural Resources as “commercially driven” and argues that the justification for the abolition offered by the Putin administration – cost savings through a reduction in the number of civil servants – is a false economy.

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