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Environmental Crime Legal Framework in Spain

Spain’s constitution contains provisions for the protection of the environment. For example, Section 45 reads:

  • Everyone has the right to enjoy an environment suitable for the development of the person, as well as the duty to preserve it.
  • The public authorities shall watch over a rational use of all natural resources with a view to protecting and improving the quality of life and preserving and restoring the environment, by relying on an indispensable collective solidarity.
  • For those who break the provisions contained in the foregoing paragraph, criminal or, where applicable, administrative sanctions shall be imposed, under the terms established by the law, and they shall be obliged to repair the damage caused.
  • Featured Legislation

    1991: The Law for the protection of the Environment was introduced. The Law consists of 4 titles, 42 articles, 9 additional provisions, 2 transitory, 2 derogatory, 2 final and 4 annexes. INDEX: General Provisions (I); Environmental impact assessment (II); Environmental Qualification (III): Concept (1), Competencies (2), Procedure (3); Environmental discipline (IV): General provisions (1), Environmental qualification discipline (2); Projects, works and activities that must be submitted to Environmental Impact Assessment – State Legislation (Annex 1); Projects, works and activities that must be submitted to Environmental Impact Assessment – Community of Madrid (Annex 2); Activities that must be submitted to Environmental Qualification by the Environment Agency (Annex 3); Activities that must be submitted to Environmental Qualification – Municipal Competence (Annex 4). The purpose of this Law is to establish a system of additional regulations for the protection of the environment in the Community of Madrid, within the framework of the basic legislation of the State (art. 1), which basically raises the level of protection set by current legislation. and, in a complementary manner, they update and adapt the existing systems, adapting them to the structure of the Autonomous Administration. This Law has been articulated following the double line of environmental protection established by State legislation: the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) regulated by Royal Legislative Decree No. 1302/1986 and by Royal Decree No. 1131/1988 and the of Environmental Qualification, which respectively constitute titles II and III of the same. Regarding the EIA, without prejudice to the block reference to the basic state regulations, the level of protection now existing is raised by expanding the assumptions in which various projects, works or activities have to submit to Studies and Declaration, to the same while the adaptation mechanisms to the organizational structure of the Community of Madrid are foreseen. Regarding the Qualification, and based on the protection system based on an environmental report prior to the municipal opening license, the Law updates, deepens, systematizes and adapts the provisions of the precursor Regulation of annoying, unhealthy, harmful and dangerous activities. Title IV regulates environmental surveillance and discipline as an inescapable guarantee of the practical effectiveness of the norm, sanctioning both non-compliance and any aggression that may affect the quality of the environment; This second aspect, of an innovative nature, constitutes a closing mechanism for the protective system. The Law treats with special care the assignment of environmental competences to the municipalities, an assignment in which an adequate weighting between two principles was necessary: that of maximum decentralization and empowerment of local autonomy, and that of maintaining an area of action specific to the Community of Madrid that allows it to attend directly to environmental requirements in those cases of special danger or in the absence of action by another administration. The consideration of both principles has led to the establishment of the competence system of this Law, based on flexibility and the use of various inter-administrative relationship formulas. Article 3 specifies that the environmental body of the Community of Madrid is the Environment Agency, a competence that has been attributed to it by Law 3/1988, for Environmental Management. Through the 2nd additional provision, the Scale of Environmental Agents is created, integrated into the body of auxiliary technicians of special administration. The functions of the agents are: a) the identification of polluting industries or sources and the typification of pollution; b) collaboration in environmental matters; c) participation in environmental education and public awareness campaigns; d) filing complaints and reports to the Environment Agency on events that threaten the environment, both in rural and urban areas; e) collaboration in the programs of the Environment Agency in which its intervention is necessary; f) any other that is legally entrusted to it (3rd additional provision).

    1995: The law for protection of the environment of the Region of Murcia was created. The purpose of this Law is to establish a system of additional regulations for the protection of the environment in the Region of Murcia, the administrative procedures for the granting of authorizations, the preparation of environmental impact statements and environmental qualification for industries or activities that are potentially polluting or that alter the environment, and the development of basic State legislation on environmental quality. For the purposes of this Law, the environmental body of the Autonomous Community of the Region of Murcia is the Department of the Environment. In each City Council, the environmental body will be the one that has powers in matters of environmental qualification.

    2001: Royal Legislative Decree No. 1/2001 was approved. The legislation on water governs fresh water and its associated land (the hydraulic public domain). Pursuant to this rule, the use of water for private purposes from the hydraulic public domain is subject to obtaining the relevant concession granted by the Basin Authority. In addition, the performance of works affecting, or the discharge of wastewater into, the hydraulic public domain also requires the relevant authorisations granted by the Basin Authority.

    2007: Law No. 34/2007 was promulgated. The legislation refers to those activities considered as potential pollutants of the atmosphere. This regulation imposes emission limits for these activities, as well as other obligations such as self-control and keeping an official registry book on emissions. Certain activities must obtain a previous authorisation. In addition, limits on the concentration of certain pollutants in the air are also established.

    2007: Law No. 42 was ratified. The legislation governs the protection of wild flora and fauna species. As a general rule, destroying or disturbing protected wild species of flora and fauna is prohibited, as it is the possession or trade of such species. This regulation creates, inter alia, the list of wild species subject to a special protection regime; the inclusion of a species within the list entails certain restrictions concerning its possession, commercialisation and any other activity that may harm the species. The list also includes the catalog of threatened species, which is distinguished by one of two categories (in danger of extinction and vulnerability) depending on the relevant type of threat, and provides specific protection measures for these categories.

    2011: Law No. 22 on Waste and Polluted Soils was passed. The legislation tackles activities that can potentially pollute the soil, the declaration of land as polluted and the clean-up obligations. According to Law No. 22/2011, the autonomous regions shall declare, define and make an inventory of land that is polluted owing to the existence of dangerous components caused by humans. The declaration of land as polluted, which is based on the concept of risk (for human health or the environment) and uses of the land, shall be made by the autonomous regions on the basis of the criteria set forth by Royal Decree No. 9/2005 and will require the carrying out of those activities necessary to clean up the soil. The persons compelled to carry out these activities are the polluters and, secondly, the non-occupying legal owners of the polluted land and finally the occupiers. In addition, there are obligations to provide periodic information to the authorities regarding the potential pollution of the soil, as well as to disclose the fact that potential soil-polluting activities are or have been carried out in the public deed of transfer of rights over the soil in question.

    2016: Royal Legislative Decree No. 1/2016 was signed. The legislation provides for a single proceeding incorporating the most relevant environmental permits and other administrative steps in a single authorisation: the integrated environmental authorisation. The main aspects covered by this are air and water emissions, the production and management of waste and environmental impact assessments (EIAs). Together with Royal Decree No. 815/2013 of 18 October on industrial emissions, Royal Legislative Decree No. 1/2016 implements the provisions of Directive 2010/75/EU, of the European Parliament and of the Council, of 24 November 2010, on industrial emissions.

    Featured Case Studies: Transnational Environmental Crime, Human Security, and Biosecurity

    • In 2021, Spanish judge and Minister of the Interior, Fernando Grande-Marlaska, promised during his recent trip to Colombia to provide support to the Police to combat crimes against the environment caused by the cultivation of the coca plant and its subsequent chemical processing. Colombian president, Iván Duque, has welcomed the support and the two officials have finalized a plan for general directors of the National Police, Francisco Pardo, and the Civil Guard. Grande-Marlaska’s commitment took place during the two-day trip he made to Colombia, in which he met with Iván Duque himself, with the Vice President and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Marta Lucía Ramírez; the interior minister, Daniel Palacios; that of Defense ―which is the portfolio that addresses the Colombian National Police―, Diego Andrés Molano; and the director of the National Police, General Jorge Luis Vargas, among other authorities. Police cooperation is key to tackling environmental crime, according to Fernando Grande-Marlaska. Both countries have maintained their commitment to fighting transnational environmental crime with hopes of intensifying efforts in other police areas, such as cybercrime, gender violence, the protection of human rights and attention to vulnerable groups. Environmental crime in Colombia is closely linked to drug trafficking, having caused the felling of trees for clandestine coca leaf crops and the subsequent use of highly polluting precursors, such as gasoline and all kinds of acids, to the manufacture of cocaine hydrochloride. The support proposed by Grande-Marlaska would be articulated through the Nature Protection Service (Seprona) of the Civil Guard.

    References and Further Reading


    Minister for the Ecological Transition Plaza San Juan de la Cruz, H.E. Ms. Teresa Ribera: