The obligation to environment protection during business and investment course requires many efforts from the enterprises, including updating the changes of relevant regulations. Law on Protection of Environment 2020 which has just been approved and will come into effect from 2022 brings “new wind” with many changes that the enterprises need to pay special attention, in order to ensure compliance with the law and avoid legal risks arising.
Classification of investment projects by their impact level on the environment
The investment projects which must carry out the environmental procedures are listed and excluded spontaneously by current environment law. As turning point, Law on Protection of Environment 2020 sets out the criteria of adverse impact level on the environment to classify these projects into 04 groups: (1) Group I (high risk); (2) Group II (risk); (3) Group III (low risk); (4) Group IV (no risk, remaining projects excluded from 03 above groups). Among them, the Group I projects and some of Group II projects must carry out the environmental impact assessment (EIA).
Accordingly, the Government is responsible for issuing list of projects of groups I, II and III, in order to determine the respective environmental protection responsibilities for the enterprises implementing such projects.
Environmental permit and environmental registration – simplify procedures, reduce the cost burden
The procedure of environmental protection plan certification and a series of current environmental approvals will be abrogated from January 1st, 2022. Instead, the lawmakers introduce new mechanism of (1) environmental permit and (2) environmental registration, in addition to the EIA procedure which is maintained.
Specifically, the environmental permit will replace all 07 types of environmental approvals in many domains (scrap import, hazardous waste treatment, industrial waste gas discharge, wastewater discharge into water sources, irrigation works) which are provided dispersedly and complicatedly in many current legal normative documents. Accordingly, this permit is required for waste discharge projects which more or less likely have adverse environmental impact. It is only exempted for the projects without risk (group IV) and the urgent public investment projects (resolution of natural calamity and disaster, etc.). The permits are issued, as the case may be, mainly by the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment, the provincial or district People’s Committees before (i) when the project tests the waste treatment facility (whereon the EIA is required) or (ii) when State issue the construction permit or other approvals, licenses according to the law (if the EIA is not required).
The environmental registration applies to the projects discharging wastes that are not required to obtain the environmental permit, except for the projects discharging small waste volume (already disposed) or relating to the State’s secrets on national defense and public security. The enterprises may register online or by post to the communal People’s Committee before (i) the official operation of projects (if the EIA is required) or (ii) before the issuance of construction permit or the waste discharge (if the EIA is not required).
Clarification of preliminary environmental impact assessment
An important requirement that Law on Investment demands of few words has been clarified by Law on Environmental Protection 2020. It helps to resolve many investors’ confusion in submitting application for decision (or approval) of investment guidelines for their projects.
Accordingly, the content of preliminary environmental impact assessment is clearly specified, including: (1) assessment of the site’s conformity with the environmental protection strategy and planning, (2) identification of environmental impact level and environmental sensitive factors (3) proposal of measures to minimize adverse impacts, (4) notable environmental issues during implementation.
It should be noted that this preliminary assessment is required only for Group I investment projects (high risk), helping to reduce the procedure and cost burden for many investors who implement the other remaining projects.