Minister of Public Administration Mihhail Korb (Center) wants €20 million of the money collected by the Estonian government in environmental charges to be channeled to Ida-Viru County every year to help improve the region's living environment.
Estonia's northeasternmost county would receive altogether €200 million over a ten-year period beginning in 2018.
The Estonian government program calls for drawing up a program for Ida-Viru County that would direct investments to the region to make the Northeastern Estonian business environment attractive to investors and the living environment safe and offer diverse opportunities to local residents.
Developing the economic environment is crucial for achieving these objectives, Korb said in his proposals to the Cabinet. Diversifying the economy is also important for preparing the region for a gradual reduction of the volumes of industrial activity based on oil shale.
While some activities to improve the situation in Ida-Viru County have been listed in the action plan for Ida-Viru County for 2015-2020, an additional impetus is needed to give a tangible boost to the region's development, Korb said. For this, the program needs to be in effect for at least ten years, and the sources of funding must be sustainable and not depend on yearly state budget negotiations.
While the oil shale sector paid €305 million in environmental charges between 2011 and 2015, projects in Ida-Viru County received only €18 million under the environmental program. Of that amout, projects related to subsoil resources, waste processing and the protection of atmospheric air received only €6.6 million.
Unlike the rural municipalities upon whose territory mining actually takes place, the municipalities indirectly affected by mining, such as via workforce and the supply chain — which include the region's major cities — get no compensation, Korb noted.
Until now, environmental charges have not been tapped into in order to ease the unwanted socioeconomic effects of mining in Ida-Viru County, where decades of mining have had an impact on the structure of the region's economy, population composition and the man-made environment, in addition to the natural environment.
According to Korb, with Ida-Viru County it is not sufficient when a small portion of the environmental fees collected in the region is directed back to it via the environmental program. Considering the poor performance of Ida-Viru County on socioeconomic indicators as well as its rapidly declining population, it is altogether justified to direct a significant portion of the environmental fees paid by the oil shale sector back into the region in order to solve its socioeconomic problems.
The budget of the proposed program would be divided between activities related to the economy and the living environment, with the former accounting for at least 50 percent of the program's total volume.
Editor: Aili Vahtla