Environmental permits: what are they?

Environmental permits are part of the administrative authorisation measures, which in the common language are often referred to as “licences“.

With these measures, the public administration removes the limits that the legal system has placed on a pre-existing legal situation of advantage, but not before verifying its compatibility with the public interest.

Environmental authorizations are therefore the result of the authorization process by which the competent authority examines projects of plants to be built or requests to carry out activities of environmental importance submitted by interested parties and judges their eligibility, according to criteria of compliance with predetermined technical criteria, and confirms the projects or the operation of various types of requirements.

The catalogue of environmental authorizing powers is very extensive and varied.

The authorisation instrument is indeed particularly consisent with the requirements of prevention, precaution and correction at source of the harmful effects that govern the entire matter of environmental law, since, together with the tendency to exclude the applicability of the silence procedure (tacit approval), it makes it possible to carry out a check before the launch of the activity and to prevent dangerous and/or harmful situations for the protected environmental good from even coming into existence.

Three types of environmental authorisation measures can be distinguished.

In some cases, the authorisation measure is the result of the procedure mainly aimed at pursuing the ecological interest of the proceeding P.A., such as -e.g.- the IPPC related authorization called A.I.A. (Autorizzazione Integrata Ambientale) or the authorisation for the opening of an industrial wastewater discharge.

In other cases, the act of consent defines a sub-procedure, which is part of a broader procedure for the protection of a different interest, mostly aimed at establishing the general absence of a given human activity or a given plan or programme, such as Environmental Impact Assessment (V.I.A., Valutazione di Impatto Ambientale) or Strategic Environmental Assessment (V.A.S., Valutazione Ambientale Strategica) procedures.

Finally, other categories of permits are characterized by the fact that the subject is authorized to carry out an activity not following a real procedure of investigation and authorization, but following the submission of a declaration of commencement of activities, or a communication, as is the case for the registration in the National Register for Environmental Operators for the exercise of the activity of waste transport.

What are the purposes of integrated environmental permits?

Among the innovative aspects of European environmental policy, the integrated approach to reducing environmental pollution is particularly important.

This integrated approach to assessing the environmental effects of human activities involves replacing individual environmental permits with a single complex permit issued by a single authority.

Within this category we can distinguish between integrated environmental permits and single environmental permits.

What are the most important environmental permits?

The most important figures in integrated authorisations are the AIA and the AUA: they go well beyond a sectorial approach and consider the interconnection of the various forms of pollution with reference to a single activity, replacing, in accordance with the law, many authorisations of a specific nature for the exercise of the same activity.

Among the single environmental authorizations, the single authorization for new waste disposal and recovery plants governed by art. 208 of Legislative Decree 152/2006 or the single authorization for plants construction and management, or for the production of electricity from renewable sources, pursuant to art. 12 of Legislative Decree no. 387/2003 must be considered.

Among the “sectorial” environmental authorizations we can list the one provided for by the art. 124 D.lgs. 152/2006 for wastewater discharges, and those provided for particular types of discharge (such as wastewater discharges into the soil or subsoil), or the one of art. 269 D. lgs. 152/2006 for emissions into the atmosphere.

We can also further distinguish between punctual and general authorizations, which concern an entire category of activities and establish general requirements for obtaining the qualification following the submission of the application for membership of the person concerned, which the competent authority may refuse only in the event of non-compliance with the general requirements or in other mandatory cases.

This sub-type of measure includes the authorisation governed by Article 272, paragraph 2, for plants with emissions into the atmosphere that are of little relevance to the effects of air pollution.

In the second of the three types of authorisation acts described above, the most important examples are, as already mentioned, the V.I.A. and the V.A.S., and consist of endo-administrative procedures through which the effects on the environment of the project or plan or programme subject to the main consent procedure are identified in advance in order to identify the most compatible solutions for implementation with the objectives of environmental protection.

The V.I.A. concerns the environmental compatibility assessment of an individual project, while the V.A.S. concerns the environmental compatibility assessment of an entire programme and thus all the effects of activities that are absent in a given area.

Another relevant assessment is that of environmental impact (VINCA., Incidenza Ambientale), on the areas of environmental protection identified by Directive 92/43/EEC, i.e. sites of Community interest (S.I.C., Siti di Interesse Comunitario) and Special Areas of Conservation (Z.S.C.,  Zone Speciali di Conservazione), and by Directive 79/409/EEC, i.e. Special Protection Areas (ZPS, Zone di Protezione Speciale). However, to date it has been almost absorbed in the V.I.A. and V.A.S. procedures pursuant to art. 10, paragraph 3 of Legislative Decree 152/2006.

The third and heterogeneous category of consent procedures in the field of environmental authorizations includes several figures, some of which are characterized by simplification requirements, especially in relation to activities that do not present significant risks for the environment: by way of example, we can mention the simplified procedures provided for in Articles. 214, 215 and 216 of Legislative Decree 152/2006 for the performance of the activities of self-disposal of non-hazardous waste at the place of production or of waste recovery operations.

Or we can include in the latter category the registration in the National Register for environmental operators, which constitutes, pursuant to art. 212, paragraph 6, title of qualification for the exercise of the activities of waste collection, transport, trade and brokerage.

In any case, these are more properly measures to replace the environmental permit than real authorization measures.

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