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Iran: Law to Protect Wetlands

(July 10, 2017) In an effort to counteract the combined effects of climate change, water crises, and human activities that have turned Iran’s once-thriving wetlands into sources of dust and sand storms, the Iranian Parliament has passed the Law to Protect, Restore, and Manage the Country’s Wetlands (Wetlands Protection Law). (Law on Wetlands Protection Ready, FINANCIAL TRIBUNE (May 23, 2017).) The Law, originally proposed in July 2015, was passed on April 24, 2017, and approved by the Guardian Council on May 3, 2017. (Id.)  Dr. Massoumeh Ebtekar, Vice President of Iran and head of the country’s Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), announced on May 30, 2017, that President Hassan Rouhani had signed the implementation plan to bring the Law into effect. (Keemia Abdollahpour, Formulation of the Plan for Implementing the Law on the Protection of Wetlands, IRNA (May 30, 2017) (in Persian).)

Provisions of the Law

The purpose of the Wetlands Protection Law, which contains five articles, is to prohibit “any exploitation and activity that leads to irreparable damage to and pollution of wetlands.” (Law on the Protection, Restoration and Management of the Country’s Wetlands (May 20, 2017), art. 1, Islamic Parliament Research Center of the Islamic Republic of Iran website (in Persian).) The new Law requires the EPA to draft regulations to protect wetlands and submit them to the Council of Ministers (the Cabinet) for approval within six months of the Law’s issuance.  (Id. art. 1 note.)  The measure also tasks the EPA with determining the “water needs” of wetlands and the Ministry of Energy with securing those needs. (Id. art. 2.)  Additionally, the Law prohibits the introduction into wetlands of harmful, nonnative plants and animals, and requires the EPA to draw up a list of such harmful species and revise it every two years.  (Id. art. 3.)

The Law provides that violators of its provisions and of related regulations adopted by the EPA must pay compensation for damages and imposes fines of three to five times the damages for first-time offenders and six to eight times the damages for repeat offenders. Revenues from such penalties are to be applied to wetlands preservation and restoration.  (Id. art. 4.)

Lastly, the Law requires the government to allocate funding in the annual budget for projects aimed at achieving the Law’s goals. (Id. art. 5.)

Reactions to the Law

Vice President Ebtekar stated that the new “more independent and powerful” Law “definitely provides for a better policy on protecting wetlands than that seen in various previous laws that dealt with the issue.” (Keemia Abdollahpour, Ebtekar: Law on Protection of Wetlands Conforms with International Agreements, IRNA (May 31, 2017) (in Persian).) Moreover, in formulating the Law, the drafters examined achievements in wetlands protection from around the world and carefully took into consideration the future of the country’s wetlands.  (Id.)  Ebtekar added that, as the Law had specified the responsibilities of the relevant government agencies, the agencies no longer had any excuse for failing to carry them out.  (Id.)

Iranian environmental journalist and activist Masoud Barbar, while praising the Law as a turning point in protecting and managing the country’s wetlands ecosystems, believes the Law inappropriately places expectations on the EPA that it has little chance of fulfilling. (Masoud Barbar,  All of the Heavy Burden of the Wetlands Should Not Be on the Shoulders of the Environmental Protection Organization, MEHR NEWS (June 5, 2017) (in Persian).) Barbar questions the soundness of the provision in article 2 placing the responsibility for determining wetlands’ water requirements on the EPA.  He attributes the drying up of wetlands and their becoming a source of dust partly to the EPA’s “passivity” and failure in recent years to deter “the great destructive projects of the Ministries of Energy, Oil and, to some extent, Agriculture,” and partly to its not properly making clear the Ministries’ legal responsibilities and the status of the environment.  (Id.)

According to Barbar, the EPA’s annual budget – even after being doubled this year – remains inadequate to meet its operational and personnel needs, so the Agency will be unable to “succeed in undertaking thorough studies to determine the water needs of the country’s wetlands in the short term.” (Id.)  Because the EPA is, in his view, financially and jurisdictionally constrained from taking substantial, practical action to restore dry or damaged wetlands, Barbar sees the Agency’s role primarily as coordinating the restoration efforts.  (Id.)