Lukavac is one of the most polluted settlements in Europe, due to the concentration of chemical industry in town. At the entrance, visitors pass coke plant, in the centre, soda factory and cement plant are located; and as a bonus, a power plant, two mines and industrial waste dumps surround the town. Concentrations of sulphur dioxide exceed the hygienic limits threefold. It means – by law – that no new sources of pollution should be permitted in the area. This is why a recent ambitious plan of private companies to add burning of used tires to the chemical diversity shocked the citizens. Another astounding fact is that the state officials supported such idea.
At the beginning of 2014, the ARTE recycling company located in town launched a used tires recycling plant. Austrian and Slovenian owners did not mind the consequences to the quality of life, but local residents immediately started to feel an unbearable stink of burning rubber.
As Bosnia and Herzegovina has the most complicated state structure in Europe, the dissatisfied people got caught in a bureaucracy net. Citizens first turned to the Municipal Inspection, but they soon learned it has no power to deal with industrial pollution. In the second step, the Cantonal Inspection told them that it is not responsible for large facilities. Finally, the Federal Environmental Inspection in the capital, Sarajevo, explained that local inspector is seated in the nearby Tuzla, but a written request to the inspection must be submitted through the Sarajevo headquarters.
Such system is not very effective. Before any complaint is delivered from Lukavac through Sarajevo to Tuzla and inspector occurs at the spot, the polluter has always few days to prepare. Anyway, in May 2015, Federal Inspection revealed serious violation of the law at the location. The tire combustion plant operated without any environmental permit, which was compulsory. Mass-media have raised a scandal, citizens were indignant and Inspection decided to close the plant down. Only after this intervention, the ARTE company took to action and submitted a request for environmental permits. To date, they were not issued and the factory remains closed (as of March 2016).
It soon became clear that the problems do not cease to exist – and probably that the tire "recycling" business pays for. In October 2015, Energy Solution company from Tuzla, submitted its request for environmental permit for the very same operation as ARTE.
Federal Ministry of Environment, responsible for issuing of the permits, announced the beginning of the administrative procedure on its website. It was also disclosed then that the public can get familiar with the documentation only in person in the building of the Ministry in Sarajevo and submit the comments within 15 days. Moreover, a compulsory "untechnical resume" did not clearly describe environmental impacts. Published details gave the picture that a hybrid of Chinese and Ukrainian pyrolysis plant is supposed to be built – but the citizens doubted, it would be something else than more advanced burning facility as in the case of ARTE.
Forum for Protection of the Environment Lukavac demanded prolongation of the deadline and a public hearing, but the minister deputy accused the non-governmental organization from obstructing the decision-making procedure. Forum then alarmed the municipality. Municipal Council convened extraordinary session and adopted a resolution calling the Ministry to stop permitting of such harmful project. It referred to Article 5 of Federal Act on Air Protection which prohibits starting to run new industries in the areas with air polluted above hygienic limits.
The Ministry, under public and media pressure, organized a project presentation on November 4 2015. Both the public and municipality received the invitation only 18 hours in advance. In spite of that, more than 50 people came. When they learned the Ministry wants to declare the meeting a "public hearing", they decided to boycott this and leave. According to Article 62 of Act on Environment, a public hearing must be announced at least 15 days before, so this was a clear breaching of the law. The meeting in Lukavac was on even organized 15 days after the deadline for submitting comments to the pyrolysis plant.
Notwithstanding public protests, Federal Ministry issued environmental permit for "tire recycling plant" 7 days after the manipulated presentation in Lukavac. The meeting was presented as a public hearing according to the law. Because violation of the legal obligations seems to be evident, Municipal Council as well as civic initiatives decided to start litigation. Consequently, the Building Authority of Lukavac suspended issuing of the zoning permit, requested by the Energy Solutioncompany – so construction of the pyrolysis plant cannot begin. Most probably, environmental permit will be cancelled and if the air quality in Lukavac will not fundamentally improve, it cannot be reissued.
State authorities were not protecting the rights of the people. They clearly acted in favour of the companies requesting permit for the business of old tire combustion. In the end the Federal Ministry violated the law twice: by issuing permit for a new facility in the area with the air polluted above the limits, and by declaring an informal meeting called up at the last minute as a fully-fledged public hearing. The court is expected to decide how serious violation this was.