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Review: Spain’s environmental protection regulations

Review: Spain’s environmental protection regulations

In review: environmental protection regulations in Spain

All questions

Environmental protection

i Air quality

The activities that are potentially harmful to the atmosphere are covered by Law 34/2007 on Air Quality and Atmospheric Environment Protection. This law:

  1. Identifies polluting materials that must be subjected to certain emission limits.
  2. Certain activities must have an existing air emission authorisation (labelled with A or B), or require a prior communication (labelled with C);
  3. Additional obligations include self-controlling and maintaining an official registry of air emissions.

Regional authorities determine the air emission limit values taking into consideration:

  1. Implementation of the most effective techniques and other appropriate measures to prevent pollution.
  2. Technical characteristics of the installation, local environmental conditions and location;
  3. Air emissions’ nature, potential for pollution transfer from one medium to the other and incidence for peoples and the environment.
  4. Plans or programmes that address air quality or emission reductions;
  5. Limits on air emissions that are set by laws and regulations or international agreements to which Spain is a signatory (Article 5 Royal Decree 100/2011).

Specific activities or pollutants are controlled by rules. Large combustion plants, for instance, are subject to specific conditions under Royal Decree 831/2013 on industrial emission and Royal Decree 430/2004 establishing regulations on the limitation of atmospheric emissions from large-combustion plants. Medium combustion plants are subject however to Royal Decree 1042/2017 on industrial emissions.

ii Water quality

Royal Legislative Decree 1/2001 Water regulates fresh water and the associated land (the hydraulic publicly domain). The Basin Authority must grant a concession to allow private water use. Other activities such as the use or discharge of wastewater require authorization from the Basin Authority.

Law 22/1988 of Coasts, which governs the seawater and associated land (the maritime–terrestrial public domain), has a similar structure. The maritime-terrestrial public realm is subject to authorisation and concession. Additionally, prior authorization is required for any discharges from land into waters. Law 22/1988 is complemented by Law 41/2010, which regulates the planning, conservation and protection of the marine environment.

To protect the public domain of both hydraulic and maritime-terrestrial, easements and restrictions are imposed on adjacent plots to limit their ownership. Planning is key to ensuring the right level of protection.

  1. Each basin has its own hydraulic public domain plans. They aim to achieve good water conditions, adequately protect water resources, satisfy water demand, achieve balanced regional and sectorial growth, increase availability of the resource, preserve its quality, and reduce its cost.
  2. Concerning the maritime-terrestrial public realm, Law 41/2010 regarding the protection of the marine environment imposes the obligation to develop specific strategic plans for each maritime region. Royal Decree 1366/2018 approved each plan for each of the five Spanish maritime regions.

Intake concessions and discharge authorisations from the hydraulic public domain are also granted based on the environment of the medium and the compatibility of water intake and discharge with environmental sustainability. The content of the applicable basin plan is crucial to determine which.

Water discharges are not subject to any specific maximum limits. Instead, the applicable discharge limit values will be determined according to the specific circumstances. Consider the details of the plan, which often includes maximum discharge limits or quality goals, as well the specific characteristics of any discharge to be authorized (e.g. location, pollutants, quantity).

Similar considerations are required when authorizing discharges into the maritime public domain. Application for discharge authorizations to the maritime public realm may be rejected on the basis of the applicable quality criteria and the specific characteristics. This is in order to ensure that there is no significant environmental alteration (Article 57.3 of Law 22/1988).

iii Chemicals

The EU rules are the source of most Spanish chemicals laws, which are similar to Spanish environmental legislation. EU Regulation 1907/2006 regarding Registration, Evaluation Authorisation, Restriction and Authorisation of Chemicals is one of the most important rules in this area. This regulation establishes specific duties and obligations (e.g. the registration of substances or uses with European Chemicals Agency), on manufacturers, suppliers, and downstream users of chemicals on their own, in preparations, and in articles. EU Regulation 1272/2008 also governs the packaging, labelling, and classification of chemical substances and their preparations.

The penalties for any violation by EU Regulations 1907/2006, 1272/2008 and 8/2010 are set out in the national Law 8/2010. Royal Decrees 8/2010 and 363/1995 provide additional guidance on certain aspects of the classification, labelling, and packaging of hazardous substances.

Royal Decree 840/2015 on risk management for serious accidents involving hazardous materials requires notification for installations of certain hazardous substances. These installations are subject to several preventive conditions like the preparation of security reports or emergency plans. The facilities are classified according to the amount of hazardous substances present. High-risk facilities must comply with stricter requirements and obligations.

iv Solid and Hazardous Waste

Law 22/2011 defines waste to be any substance that the owner disposes of or has the intent or obligation to do so. The law also includes definitions for different types of waste such as hazardous, domestic and commercial, industrial, or biowaste.

Hazardous waste refers to any waste that has a hazardous characteristic, as defined in Annex III of Law 22,/2011. It is classified as such by EU regulations, national regulations, and regional regulations. Hazardous waste must be treated according to special authorizations. This includes labelling, packaging, storage and labelling requirements, as well as documentation obligations. The production of hazardous waste must be reported to authorities prior to being registered in the Hazardous Waste Small Producers public Registry. You may also be required to provide financial guarantees.

The municipalities collect domestic waste. Producers of industrial waste must hand it over to authorised managers. They also need to keep a record of the delivery. Waste managers must have financial guarantees and obtain prior authorisation.

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Specific regulations apply to certain types. This applies, among other things, to waste packages governed under Law 11/1997, Royal Decree 782/1998, and waste from electrical or electronic equipment governed under Royal Decree 110/2015. Construction and demolition waste is governed in Royal Decree 553/2008. Oil waste is governed through Royal Decree 679/2006. Waste batteries are governed according to Royal Decree 102/2008.

Spanish waste legislation also includes extended producer responsibility. This means that the manufacturer is responsible for the product’s entire life cycle and, in particular, for its take-back and recycling as well as final disposal. These obligations can be fulfilled by manufacturers either individually or collectively through an integrated management system. This system assumes all of the parties’ obligations.

v Contaminated Land

The main rules that govern soil pollution are Law 22/2011, Waste and Polluted Soils, and Royal Decree 9/2005, which establishes a list and criteria for determining whether a land pollutant activity is listed.

Operators of activities that produce, store, or handle more than 10 tonnes of certain substances (such as hazardous substances) under Royal Decree 9/2005, or that have a fuel-tank for private use with an annual consumption greater than 300,000l and a total storage volume greater than 50,000l, had to file a preliminary report before 7 February 2007.

The authorities could then request additional information based on the contents of the report. Operators are required to update the soil reports every other month before the regional authorities. Each autonomous region determines the frequency of these updates. This is also true in all cases where the activity is being installed, expanded or closed. Owners must also prepare a soil report whenever they change the use of the land, or apply for a permit to do a different activity.

Owners of soils where soil-polluting activities could be or have been performed must also disclose this information in the public deed for transfer of rights.

The authority to declare a land polluted is generally held by the regional authorities. This declaration is made when there is a risk to the environment or human health, taking into account the specific uses of the land. Royal Decree 9/2005 sets out the criteria for this declaration. This distinction distinguishes between industrial, urban, or other uses.

The following order identifies the persons who are responsible for cleaning up the site as required by authorities: the polluter, the owner and the possessor.

The Property Registry must contain a declaration declaring soil polluted. This can only be removed after the regional authorities confirm that the cleanup was completed properly and that there is no unacceptable risk for human health or the natural environment.

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