In Norway, the main source of environmental information is the Environmental Library, which is one of four nationwide libraries in this field. The three other libraries are the European Library, the North-South Library and the Multi-Lingual Library. The Environmental Library is on the World Wide Web.
Other international conventions and non-binding legal instruments are as follows:
It was recommended that the ministers should amend the draft Sofia Guidelines by:
However, the ministry of environment has acknowledged the Sofia Guidelines and has been in some consultations with NGOs.
However, in order for local governments to adopt their own by-laws, they have to obtain the authority to do so from the central government.
A freedom of information act was adopted in 1970 to cover rules about access to information. The freedom of information act applies to information in all areas including the environment. It also covers all the provisions of the Directive on Freedom of Access to Information (Directive 90/313/EEC).
There is no formal definition of environmental information in the constitution and there is no specific law on the environment. However, there is the Administration Procedure Act (February 10, 1967) which covers access to all information. Nordic countries also have the equivalent of this act. In addition, there is the Government Information Policy, which is described in Report No. 35 (1991-92) to parliament (Storting). This is an information policy document for the civil service. The ministry of government administration decided to give information a higher profile and make it a separate policy area. The principle objectives of the information policy are1:
A 1992 amendment to the Norwegian Constitution gives any person access to environmental information. The provision establishes a right to an environment that secures health and to natural surroundings in which productive capacity and diversity are conserved. This amendment is limited by the absence of supplementary regulations to implement these new rights.
On the whole, general information about the state of the Norwegian environment is fairly good and readily available to anyone through annual publications and press releases from the ministry of environment and its agencies.
The Norwegian government has evaluated the EU Directive (Directive 90/313/EEC) and concluded that it does not require any change or amendment of the country's laws. The EEA (European Environmental Area) surveillance authority has not challenged this view.
The freedom of information act applies to all information in all areas including the environment. The act is characterized by the following points.
There is no second right of appeal but the ombudsman can take up the matter, with some conditions, and free of charge. The ombudsman's interpretation of the law is generally seen as a judicial decision or as an amendment to the actual regulation published in a booklet by the Norwegian Government Information Board (Statens Informasjonstilsynet).
Conditions for Obtaining the Information
According to interviewees, there are no conditions stipulated when obtaining information and/or environmental information.
Businesses are obliged to provide information to the public authorities about their environmental impact assessments in accordance with the Pollution Control Act (No. 6, 1981). Other laws relevant to EIA include the Gene Technology Act (No. 38, April 1993).
In addition, businesses are obliged to provide environmental information to the public, although that does not extend to sensitive issues, such as the use of hazardous and potentially hazardous substances.
Information should be provided "without unnecessary delay," which would mean within two to three days of receiving a request for information, if the information were available. The time limits for providing the information are two weeks if the requested information is extensive.
Refusal to Provide Information
Refusal to provide the requested information should be sent out within 2 weeks along with an explanation. There are no limitations as to who can receive information in general, according to the freedom of information act.
Informal Guidelines for Agencies and the Public
There are no particular guidelines for the public on how to request information and/or environmental information. Other sources suggest that the members of public should "know" what sort of information they are looking for.
However, with regard to information relating to environmental toxins, in practice the situation can be quite different. One of the subjects interviewed, experienced that whenever requests were made for specific information regarding environmental toxins from the state pollution control, the information was not provided. It would appear that the person's request for information was interpreted as a request for information on "commercial secrets."
As long as one does not request information that is under the exemption category, it should be possible to obtain information and/or environmental information (Freedom for Information Act, Paragraphs 5[a] and 6).
The "public interest test" possibility is not practiced in Norway. This term refers to the idea that any public authority intending to withhold information under one or other of the exemptions must first take account of the public interest in withholding or disclosing information.
Specific Institutions/Officials to Provide Information
All public authorities except for parliamentary organs (ombudsman and auditor general) are obliged to provide information (including environmental information) in accordance with the administration procedure act. Private bodies that provide public services are also under obligation to provide information according to the administration procedure act.
Ministers are obliged to provide the public with information regarding the work of their ministry, specific plans or government views. Information services have been established in recent years to assist ministers, state secretaries and other ministry personnel in maintaining good contacts with the press and broadcasting media. The ministry of information must disseminate general and specific information to the press and the diplomatic community and keep the minister and senior administration up-to-date with current issues.
The ministry of government administration has established the Central Information Service to assist the central administration with its information needs and to inform the public of new legislations and regulations. It also has a telephone information service in order to assist the public in maneuvering their way around the complex structure of government offices.
Ministry regulations contain provisions which specify how the ministry is to deal with the media.
If an Authority Does Not Possess the Information
If the authority denies access to the information requested, a written explanation is usually given for the denial, with reasons such as "national security" or "commercial secrets." By law, the authority denying the information is not obliged to forward the request to another authority who has the information.
Information Held in Public Registers and Costs of Obtaining Information
Information held in public registers is free of charge and there are adequate facilities for obtaining copies of information for payment of the costs of its reproduction and dissemination.
Public authorities are generally obliged to actively disseminate information. The dissemination of information is decentralized.
In practice this means that the various ministries are responsible for dissemination of information within their domain. For instance, the ministry of environment is responsible for all issues pertaining to the environment and environmental policies.
The Pollution Control Act (No. 6, 1981), which deals with environmental licensing and impact analysis, also contains information requirements and references to the provisions of the freedom of information act. The Gene Technology Act (No. 38, April 1993) is generally the same as the Pollution Control Act. It is the most important law in Norway used to regulate the use of genetically modified organisms (GMOs). This act is in accordance with the rules in EU countries, but has a few exceptions these being that the production of genetically modified organisms shall be carried out in an ethical manner, be of use to the society and in accordance with the principle of sustainable development. It has special provisions on the type of information to be made public.
Methods of Dissemination
Typical methods used by the public authorities for provision of information and/or environmental information are newspapers, advertising spots and television.
Archives are also open to the media and journalists have access to them. The information department in each ministry determines whether or not the information in the archives can be made public.
Information is usually provided in written form although telephone, fax and e-mail are also accepted. Other sources suggest that it is the public authorities themselves who decide the form in which the information should be provided.
Electronic Means of Dissemination
Information and/or environmental information does not have to be accessible electronically, but this is often the case. For instance, the Environmental Library has the following website: http://www.steinkjer. folkebibl.no/miljobib.htm
Nongovernmental information centers do exist, for instance, the Norwegian ForUM for Environmental Development.
There has never been a referendum on the environment and related issues, although there is a general right to referendum. There are no privileged groups.
The right to a referendum is decided by the government or parliament. The local government can also decide to exercise the right to a referendum. However, this right is not in the constitution. There are no privileged groups in this context.
Norway has had four national referenda this century, two of which had to do with Norway's membership in the EU (1972 and 1995).
No environmental issues are bound to referenda. Referenda are seldom used and they are nonbinding in the formal sense, although Norwegian politics has usually implemented the results of a referendum. Referenda are usually reserved for cases of utmost importance. There is no case in which authorities are bound to call referendum.
Right to Initiative
Initiating law or rulemaking is limited to parliamentary members and members of the cabinet. Individuals do not have this right. This applies to all issues including environmental ones.
The right for individuals'/NGOs' input to be taken seriously is exercised all the time, as meetings, debates and conferences in parliament are continuous.
However, there is a requirement to take account of public input in decisionmaking and this is dependent on the nature of the arguments. In the case of a hearing relating to a new law proposal, the involved parties are expected to send in their comments or objections to the proposal within three months. These comments are then sent to the ministry in question and are read by the minister. Information on the results of such discussion is published in a magazine called Norsk Offentlig Utredning (Norwegian Official Publication). This form of participation can be very effective in influencing the content of the decision and exposing the different players involved.
According to one official, "There can be limitations on the procedure. The hearings deadline of three months may be too short in cases where one has to go through a large amount of material or decisionmaking may be too slow in the case of a shorter law proposal."
Adequate Notification of the Public
Individuals/NGOs involved in the hearing process for a new law proposal can be put on the list of groups regularly informed on law and policymaking. They are generally adequately informed about the progress being made. The information is usually contained in the Norsk Offentlig Utredning (Norwegian Official Publication), with an enclosed letter. The content of the notification is the law proposal in question and Stortings Meldinger (parliamentary reports).
The decisionmaking process is transparent and the public can influence the decision. Individuals/NGOs are allowed to participate in the parliamentary sessions on invitation, such as during a hearing or to make presentations on certain issues or just observe. However, neither group is allowed to participate in parliamentary committees.
One example of a mechanism to provide expert advice to the public is the initiative taken by the Drobak Municipality to inform and educate the public about the plan and building act. This initiative is financed out of the municipality's budget.
The above-mentioned constitutional provisions have not, to the author's knowledge, been used as arguments in cases brought before any court.
NGOs can go to court even if they are not affected players, provided they have a legal interest.
Provided they have a legal interest, individuals or NGOs have the right to go to court (Access to Justice Act). Thus, NGOs will have to prove having a legal interest, that is to say, that there is a question of public and/or environmental interest.
|TABLE 1: Administrative Standing|
|In the administrative decisionmaking process||In the administrative appeal of administrative decisionmaking process|
NGOs can go to court even if only the environment is affected, and in this case, public interest litigation applies. However, there are some practical constraints. For instance, if NGOs/individuals do not have the funding to take the government to court, then the case cannot go any further. In situations where the NGOs/individuals lose the case, they might have to pay the costs and/or damages to the government.
The two examples provided below are taken from an interview. According to the interview subject, "a concrete example of where there is a legal standing taken against polluters is seen in a case where the Norwegian Friends of the Earth were involved in an appeal against a Stone-crushing project in the Kvam Municipality planned by a rock excavation company and the local authorities. This project was planned in the area of the famous Hardanger Plateau which is a significant tourism area, valuable to the local population and boat enthusiasts. It was argued that the stones would be used in road construction and would provide employment to the local population. The Norwegian Friends of the Earth's local members wrote letters to the local press in which they argued against the project. These arguments included the fact that the move would cause visual pollution, it would break the law against construction of any building within 100 meters of the beach and the value of jobs created could not match the destruction caused. They also brought the case to the National Board of Norwegian Friends of the Earth, where a resolution was passed against the project. A complaint was sent to the Ministry of Environment who spoke on television against the project.
"Another example is seen in the case where Kragero Municipality proposed the building of a bridge and cabin area on an island that was previously uninhabited and used as a recreational place for the local population. The local branch of the Norwegian Friends of the Earth wrote a letter of protest to the local press, where they argued that such a move would destroy and pollute a natural area, thus drawing a lot of media attention. In addition, the case was taken up by the National Board of Norwegian Friends of the Earth, who protested to the ministry of environment. The Norwegian Friends of the Earth won the first appeal against the project. However, to date, the Kragero Municipality and local authorities are still trying to get the project approved."
JUSBUSS is a voluntary organization run by 30 law students (second to fifth year) from the University of Oslo, on a full-time basis. Their services are free of charge. They deal with social welfare issues, work-related environment issues, housing, immigration and imprisonment. However, they cannot appear in court.
The ombudsman exercises his/her role first and foremost on the basis of appeals from members of the public. Appeals can be lodged with both administrative organs and civil servants or others in the administrative sector. Private disagreements lie outside the ombudsman's jurisdiction, for instance disagreements between private individuals who are neighbors, complaints about private organizations.
The office of the ombudsman receives one out of eight complaints annually that are related to environmental issues.