National Audit Office finds that pollution charges in general have not contributed to a reduction in ambient air pollution or the production of waste, as it is much more economical to pay the charges than it is to cover the cost of investing in environmentally friendly technology.
The limited impact of pollution charges on reducing pollution can also be seen in environmental data, according to which Estonian companies released nearly 20 pct more of almost all key pollutants into the air in 2007 than in 2006.
The analysis carried out by the National Audit Office revealed that the current charges are seeing hazardous pollutants – regardless of the level of danger they represent – taxed at one and the same rate, pollutants produced in large quantities taxed at a lower rate than others and some pollutants not being taxed at all. For example, the rate for low-temperature coke, an environmentally hazardous by-product of the oil shale oil production process, is ca. ten times lower than that of ordinary waste, while the release of benzene and ethanol into the air – both of which can cause cancer and damage genes – is taxed uniformly and no tax is charged on the emission of fluorine and chlorine compounds.
National Audit Office says that the fact that the majority of companies which have disregarded environmental pollution restrictions (e.g. polluting without a permit) have not been forced to pay pollution charges with increased rates is a problem which needs to be addressed immediately.
The pollution charges that have been collected have had a positive influence in that the funds obtained have helped the state finance the likes of local government projects for the treatment of sewage and the construction of waste treatment facilities.
The biggest user of natural resources and the biggest polluter in Estonia is the energy sector. In 2003 the sector was responsible for 93 pct of all of the water used in Estonia; it produced 92 pct of all air pollution in the country; and generated 73 pct of the nation’s waste.