Penalties for polluting firms hiked

Environment and Public Works Minister Giorgos Souflias yesterday decided to quadruple the maximum fine imposed on firms found to be harming the environment, from 500,000 to 2 million euros. Souflias announced the move following complications with a fine imposed on a quarrying firm allegedly operating illegally in Markopoulo, east of Athens. The court questioned the minister’s right to impose a 1-million-euro fine on the quarry firm when the limit was 500,000 euros. «We did what we had to in Markopoulo… now it is up to the Development Ministry and local prefectural authorities to close down the quarries,» Souflias said. The minister also announced inspections of heavily polluted Lake Koroneia in northern Greece, as well as on the island of Milos where mining companies are allegedly operating illegally. Of 25 firms near Lake Koroneia inspected over the last month, all were found guilty of environmental violations, Souflias said. Also, most of some 2,500 water bores in the region are believed to lack licenses while many municipalities do not have an adequate waste disposal system. Inspections will be stringent and violators will face steep fines, Souflias said, adding that the number of state inspectors would be increased from 19 to 45. The minister stressed that central government had done its bit, saying the onus was now on local authorities. «It is not the job of the environmental inspectors and the ministry to monitor everything,» he said. Responding to recent comments by Thessaloniki Prefect Panayiotis Psomiadis about alleged lack of funding, Souflias said he had recently approved 42 million euros for Psomiadis’s prefecture. «They can’t just wait for state cash, they need to take all the action they are entitled to by law,» Souflias added. On Milos, where mining firms are being probed for alleged illegal activities, inspections have led to the imposition of 390,000 euros in fines. Questioned by reporters, Souflias did not rule out the possibility of inspections at a landfill in Fyli, western Athens, following a European Commission warning.