Turkish environmental law aims to regulate and prevent pollution and other environmental deterioration within Turkey’s continental borders and territorial waters. It implements a permit and compliance regime for parties that are involved in certain enumerated activities. The regulatory authority, which sets the specifics of the permit and compliance regime and is in charge of environmental compliance, is the Ministry of Environment.
Under Turkish environmental regulations, non-compliance may have various consequences from administrative fines or sanctions (e.g. suspension of operations, full-recovery of damages) to civil or criminal liabilities for individuals involved in the actions resulting in the non-compliance.
Any activity which results in polluting the environment may incur sanctions under the Environmental Law. To underline the importance of prevention, the Environmental Law further restricts any direct or indirect emission, containment, transportation or removal of waste or debris in contradiction with technical standards issued by the Ministry of Environment for each type of waste or debris. In the event of a pollution related risk, all parties involved are required to take whatever precautions are necessary to prevent the pollution. Governmental authorities may require relevant individuals or corporations to suspend, either on a temporary or permanent basis, activities which are in breach of the Environmental Law. Activities which are in breach of the Environmental Law may also result in administrative fines.
If the actions resulting in the pollution constitute a crime under the Criminal Code, offenders may be subject to imprisonment for a minimum period of two months up to a maximum of six years, plus certain judicial fines may be imposed. The minimum duration of imprisonment may be increased depending on the conditions specific to the case. Actions which do not violate the Environmental Law but result in pollution are also punishable by administrative fines levied by the municipalities under the Law on Misconduct.
Green-field investments have two major environmental compliance components: (i) the environmental impact assessment and (ii) the environmental permit.
Environmental impact assessment
Turkish law categorizes investments into two different environmental risk profiles, each with a different environmental approval process. The first category includes projects that are likely to have significant adverse effects on the environment and requires an environmental impact assessment report. The report must analyze the impact of the project with respect to nature (e.g. water, soil, air, noise, the natural habitat of wildlife, etc.) as well as with respect to the impact on the architectural and archeological heritage of the environment. After a process of review by a special committee and public consultation meetings, the Ministry of Environment issues an “Environmental Impact Assessment Affirmative” or “Environmental Impact Assessment Negative” decision.
Both types of decisions are deemed administrative acts and any third party whose interests are harmed by such an administrative act may request a stay or revocation of the decision from the competent administrative court.
The second environmental risk category includes projects that are not anticipated to have a substantial impact on the environment. Investments within certain safe harbors (e.g. hydroelectric power plants with an installed capacity between 1-10 MW) fall into this second category. The assessment procedure for these projects, which is less burdensome than the environmental impact assessment process, involves project owners preparing and filing a “project file” with the Ministry of Environment. The Ministry of Environment will determine whether an Environmental Impact Assessment process should be commenced. If the Ministry of Environment issues an “Environmental Impact Assessment Not Necessary” decision the project may be carried out without further assessment. However, if it issues an “Environmental Impact Assessment Necessary” decision the longer process described above is triggered.
Once a project is approved, the Ministry of Environment monitors the development of the project to ensure that it continues to be duly compliant with commitments made under the “Environmental Impact Assessment Report” or “project file.” The project sponsor must submit periodical monitoring reports covering the construction, operation and post-operation phases of the project.
Environmental permit and license
The environmental permit and license is the Ministry of Environment’s tool to monitor an investment’s environmental compliance after the project commences operation in full capacity. The term “operating in full capacity” has different meanings depending on the type of project. For instance, for a power plant, operating in full capacity means the commencement of power generation for commercial purposes pursuant to the installed capacity amounts provided in the power plant’s power generation license.
The environmental permit and license may comprise compliance standards that change depending on the type and nature of the investment. Permits may, for example, contain compliance standards relating to air emissions, wastewater discharge or noise pollution. The permit would also include compliance standards relating to waste treatment if the investment has features relating to hazardous waste.
Once an investment commences operations, the Ministry of Environment grants a one-year term to investors to obtain the environmental permits and licenses. During this term, the investment operates under a temporary operation certificate, which is a substitute for the environmental permit and license. Commencing operations in the absence of a temporary operation certificate is illegal and subject to temporary or permanent suspension of operations and a monetary fine.
Other environmental regulations
Alongside the environmental impact assessment and the environmental permit and license, the environmental compliance regime has many other standards which must be adhered to at all times. The most important standards are those relating to waste management (e.g. hazardous waste, oil waste, domestic waste and package waste).