New authority for environmental inspectors to issue fines

The list of offences for which inspectors may impose fines by issuing a notice of penalty to violators has been expanded.

Under an amended Polish government regulation that went into effect on 31 August 2010 (Journal of Laws Dz.U. No. 149 item 997), officials from the Inspectorate for Environmental Protection have been given broader authority to issue penalty notices for certain offences identified in the Mining Waste Act dated 10 July 2008 and the Batteries Act dated 24 April 2009. The amendment also modifies the authority of inspectors with respect to offences set forth in the Act on Chemical Substances and Formulations dated 11 January 2001 and the Act on Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment dated 29 July 2005.

The list of offences defined in these acts has not changed, but the inspectorate has been given new authority to impose fines for acts that are already offences. With respect to violations for which the inspectorate does not have the authority to impose fines by issuing a penalty notice, the inspectorate files a motion with the court to punish the offender. In other words, such violations are subject to the same sanction but it must be imposed by the court.

It is important to keep in mind the general rule that a violator may refuse to accept a penalty notice, which in most cases will result in filing of a motion for punishment with the court. Generally the Inspectorate for Environmental Protection may impose a fine using the penalty notice procedure in an amount of up to PLN 500 (or PLN 1,000 in the case of “overlapping regulations,” where the same act violates several regulations at the same time). If there are grounds to impose a higher fine in the given situation, the inspectorate will file a motion for punishment with the court. (Most offences defined in these environmental acts are subject to a fine of PLN 5,000 or more.)

A perpetrator who commits two or more violations (separate acts, each of which is an offence) may receive a separate penalty notice for each offence, in which case the total may exceed PLN 500 (or PLN 1,000) because the limit applies to the fine imposed under each single penalty notice.

Giving inspectors the right to issue fines for violations of the Batteries Act has sparked the most comment. Violation of the ban on disposing of used batteries in the same container with other waste is subject to a fine of up to PLN 5,000, as are violations of registration requirements for facilities that accept and process used batteries. In either case, environmental inspectors will be able to issue fines using the penalty notice procedure up to PLN 500, or submit the matter to court when a higher penalty is sought.

Inspectors will have the same authority with respect to violation of recording-keeping requirements by distributors of batteries, but there the maximum fine may be as high as PLN 50,000. Processing used batteries at an unlicensed facility may draw a fine of up to PLN 100,000. In such cases it is more likely that the inspectorate will waive the penalty notice procedure in favour of forwarding the matter to the court for imposition of stiffer fines.

The full list of violations for which the Inspectorate for Environmental Protection may impose fines using the penalty notice procedure is set forth in the regulation.