Government defends its eco record

Prime Minister Costas Karamanlis yesterday defended his government’s record on environmental protection, rebuffing criticism from the leaders of the four opposition parties during a parliamentary debate. «Environmental protection is a basic parameter and a central axis for all our policies,» Karamanlis said. Drafting a land register that delineates forestland is a top priority, the prime minister said. All forestland burnt during August’s catastrophic fires will be replanted, he added. Karamanlis also stressed that economic growth and environmental protection are not mutually exclusive. Responding to fresh calls for the Environment and Public Works Ministry to be split, so green issues can be tackled more effectively, Minister Giorgos Souflias said this would be viable in two or three years when EU-funded works now in progress are completed. PASOK leader George Papandreou said he would immediately create a separate environment ministry if he were prime minister. He also condemned the government’s plans to revise Article 24 of the Constitution on forestland protection despite Souflias’s commitment to restrict amendments. The harshest criticism, however, came from Coalition of the Radical Left (SYRIZA) leader Alekos Alavanos, who slammed the government over the heavily-polluted Lake Koroneia and Asopos River and called for «a clash with big (business) interests to put a stop to irresponsible behavior.» In the case of the Asopos, a source of drinking water for tens of thousands of citizens which has been found to contain toxic chromium, Alavanos said the government was displaying indifference to citizens’ health. Souflias said all firms found to be dumping toxic waste into the river will be fined. In a related development yesterday, the European Environment Agency released a report ranking Greece second-to-last in the European Union when it comes to recycling its trash. According to the EEA, the Netherlands, Denmark and Sweden send less than 10 percent of their garbage to landfills and recycle more than 50 percent. Greece ranked just above Poland, sending 90 percent of its trash to landfills and recycling less than 10 percent.