Environmentalists contend that pollution from the paper mill is the biggest threat to the lake’s biodiversity.
A decree signed last week by Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin will allow a paper mill on the shore of Lake Baikal to resume dumping sewage and waste water into the lake, the Wall Street Journal reports.
The decree removes waste discharges from the production of pulp and paper from a list of banned activities adopted in 2001.
The Baikalsk Pulp and Paper Mill stopped operations in October 2008 after environmental authorities ordered the mill to install a closed-loop water system, which would have eliminated wastewater discharges. The company decided the regulations made the mill unprofitable and shut it down in February 2009, causing massive unemployment in the mill town of Baikalsk, the WSJ reports.
The mill’s majority owner is Oleg Deripaska, the richest man in Russia until the global financial crisis began two years ago. Critics of the deal argue that Deripaska leveraged his influence with the Russian government to get pulp production removed from the list.
The prime minister’s press secretary denied that Putin was pressured by Deripaska’s interests, according to the WSJ.
“The only interests we can speak about protecting,” he said, “are the interests of the 16,000 people in Baikalsk, whose lives depend almost entirely on that mill.”
Though Lake Baikal, which holds one-fifth of the world’s unfrozen freshwater, is protected by the UNESCO World Heritage, the Worldwide Fund for Wildlife thinks the water body is still in jeopardy.
“Restart of the mill is being regarded as a necessity to preserve the jobs,” said Igor Chestin, WWF Russia Director, in a press release. “However, the resumption of its work will mean that Russia violates its obligations as one of the signatory party of the UNESCO World Heritage Convention.”
“The new resolution weakens the protection level of the World Natural Heritage site. It means that when a mission of the World Heritage committee could come to Russia and in the future Lake Baikal would be given a status of a World Heritage site under threat.”
Source: Wall Street Journal
Read more from UNESCO about Lake Baikal
Brett writes about agriculture, energy, infrastructure, and the politics and economics of water in the United States. He also writes the Federal Water Tap, Circle of Blue’s weekly digest of U.S. government water news. He is the winner of two Society of Environmental Journalists reporting awards, one of the top honors in American environmental journalism: first place for explanatory reporting for a series on septic system pollution in the United States(2016) and third place for beat reporting in a small market (2014). He received the Sierra Club’s Distinguished Service Award in 2018. Brett lives in Seattle, where he hikes the mountains and bakes pies. Contact Brett Walton