In Review: Environmental Protection Regulations in Spain

All the questions

Environmental Protection

i Air quality

Law 34/2007 on Air Quality and Protection of the Atmospheric Environment regulates activities considered potentially polluting the atmosphere. This law :

  1. identifies the polluting substances which must be subject to certain emission limits;
  2. imposes that certain activities must obtain prior authorization for emissions into the air (labeled A or B) or require prior communication (labeled C); and
  3. imposes additional obligations such as self-monitoring and the keeping of an official register of atmospheric emissions.

The air emission limit values ​​are established by the regional authorities taking into account:

  1. implementation of best available techniques or other appropriate measures to prevent air pollution;
  2. technical characteristics of the installation, location and local environmental conditions;
  3. the nature of air emissions, the potential for pollution transfer from one medium to another and the impact on people and the environment;
  4. plans or programs concerning air quality or the reduction of gas emissions; and
  5. the air emission limit values ​​imposed by laws and regulations or international treaties to which Spain is a party (Article 5 of Royal Decree 100/2011).

Application rules govern specific activities or pollutants. For example, large combustion plants are subject to certain specific conditions under Royal Decree 815/2013 on industrial emissions and Royal Decree 430/2004 establishing new regulations on the limitations of atmospheric emissions from large combustion plants, while that medium combustion plants are subject to Royal Decree 1042/2017 on industrial emissions.

ii Water quality

Royal Legislative Decree 1/2001 on water governs fresh water and its associated lands (the hydraulic public domain). According to this rule, the use of water for private purposes is subject to obtaining a concession granted by the Basin Authority. Other activities, such as the use of the river bed or the discharge of waste water, require authorization also granted by the Basin Authority.

Coastal Law 22/1988, which regulates sea water and its associated lands (the maritime-terrestrial public domain), follows a similar structure. Thus, the use, occupation or work on the maritime-terrestrial public domain are subject to authorization or concession. In addition, discharges from land into the sea require prior authorization. Law 22/1988 is complemented by Law 41/2010 on the protection of the maritime environment which regulates the planning, conservation, protection and improvement of the environmental state of the maritime environment.

To better protect the public domain, both hydraulic and maritime-terrestrial, easements and limitations are imposed on the ownership of adjacent plots. Planning is also essential to achieve an appropriate level of protection:

  1. Regarding the hydraulic public domain, each basin has its own plans aimed, among other things, at achieving good water conditions and adequately protecting water resources, meeting water demands, achieving balanced and harmonized regional and sectoral development, increase the availability of the resource, protect its quality and reduce the cost of its use; and
  2. Regarding the maritime-terrestrial public domain, Law 41/2010 on the protection of the maritime environment provides for the obligation to draw up specific strategic plans for each maritime space. The plans for each of the five Spanish maritime areas have been approved by Royal Decree 1365/2018.

In addition, the granting of abstraction concessions or authorization to discharge from the hydraulic public domain is based on the environmental state of the environment and the compatibility between the abstraction or discharge of water and environmental sustainability. To determine both, the content of the applicable specific basin plan is essential.

With regard to water discharges, as it is difficult to determine certain single maximum limits of general application, the applicable discharge limit values ​​are fixed according to the specific circumstances in question. Among these circumstances to be considered is the content of the applicable specific plan, which generally includes maximum discharge limit values ​​or quality objectives, as well as the specific characteristics of the discharge to be authorized (for example, location, pollutants or quantity).

Similar considerations apply when granting discharge authorizations in the maritime public domain. Based on the applicable quality objectives and the specific characteristics of the discharge, applications for authorizations for discharges into the maritime public domain may be rejected or limited to ensure that no significant alteration of the environment is caused (article 57.3 , Law 22/1988).

iii Chemicals

The main Spanish chemical provisions, similar to most environmental legislation in Spain, come from EU rules. Indeed, one of the pending rules on chemicals is EU Regulation 1907/2006 on the Registration, Evaluation, Authorization and Restriction of Chemicals. This regulation defines specific duties and obligations (e.g. registration of substances and uses with the European Chemicals Agency) for manufacturers, importers and downstream users of substances on their own, contained in preparations and articles. In addition, EU Regulation 1272/2008 governs the classification, labeling and packaging of chemical substances and preparations.

National Law 8/2010 defines the penalties applicable in case of violation of EU Regulations 1907/2006 and 1272/2008. In addition, Royal Decrees 255/2003 and 363/1995 govern certain specific aspects of the classification, labeling and packaging of dangerous substances and preparations.

In addition, Royal Decree 840/2015 on the control of the risks of serious accidents involving dangerous substances, requires notification for the installation of activities that use certain dangerous substances and subjects these installations to several preventive conditions, such as the preparation of preventive policy plans, safety reports or emergency plans. Depending on the amount of existing hazardous substances, facilities are classified as low or high risk facilities. High-risk installations are subject to stricter obligations and requirements.

iv Solid and hazardous waste

Law 22/2011 defines waste as any substance that the holder disposes of or has the intention or the obligation to do so. The law includes definitions of different types of waste, such as hazardous, domestic, commercial, industrial or biological waste.

Hazardous waste is that which has a hazardous characteristic as listed in Annex III of Law 22/2011 and is considered as such by European, national or regional regulations. The processing of hazardous waste is subject to specific authorizations and must meet specific storage, labeling and packaging conditions, as well as documentary obligations. In addition, the production of hazardous waste is subject to prior notification to the authorities or registration in the Public Register of Small Producers of Hazardous Waste. Financial guarantees may be requested.

The collection of household waste is entrusted to the municipalities (as well as any ordinary commercial waste), while the producers of industrial waste have the obligation to hand them over to approved waste managers and to register their good delivery. Waste managers must obtain prior authorization and have financial guarantees.

Certain types of waste are also subject to specific regulations. This is the case, among others, of waste packages governed by Law 11/1997 and Royal Decree 782/1998, waste electrical and electronic equipment governed by Royal Decree 110/2015, construction waste and demolition regulated by Royal Decree 105/2008, petroleum waste regulated by Royal Decree 679/2006 or used batteries regulated by Royal Decree 106/2008.

In addition, Spanish waste legislation includes extended producer responsibility (i.e. the responsibility of the manufacturer of a product throughout its life cycle, and in particular for its take-back, recycling and disposal final). Manufacturers can comply with these obligations alone or collectively by means of an integrated management system, a body that assumes said obligations on behalf of all members.

v Contaminated land

Law 22/2011 on waste and polluted soils and Royal Decree 9/2005 on the creation of a list of potentially soil polluting activities and the criteria for declaring polluted soils are the main rules governing soil pollution .

Operators of activities included in the list of potentially soil-polluting activities under Royal Decree 9/2005 who produce, handle or store more than 10 tonnes per year of certain substances such as hazardous substances, or who have a fuel tank for private use with an annual average consumption of more than 300,000 liters and a total storage volume of 50,000 liters or more, had to file a preliminary soil report before February 7, 2007.

Subsequently, given the content of this report, the authorities had the opportunity to request more detailed information. Operators must then periodically update the soil report before the regional authorities – the regularity of this update is determined by each autonomous region – and, in any case, during installation, expansion or of the closure of the activity. Similarly, owners must prepare a soil report when changing land use or applying for a permit for a different activity.

In addition, the owners of land on which potentially polluting activities are or have been carried out must declare this circumstance in the public deed of transfer of rights to the land in question.

As a general rule, it is the regional authorities that have the power to declare polluted soil. For this purpose, a risk to human health or the environment taking into account the specific use of the land must exist. The criteria to be taken into account for this declaration are defined by Royal Decree 9/2005, which makes a distinction between industrial, urban or other uses of the land.

The persons required to clean up the site – according to the procedures imposed by the authorities – are, in this order, the polluter, the owner of the polluted site and the possessor thereof.

The declaration of polluted soils must be included in the land register and can only be withdrawn when the regional authorities confirm that the cleaning has been duly carried out and that there is therefore no unacceptable risk to human health or the environment. environment.

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