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Est-For biorefinery development poses risks to environment say NGO's

A Letter of Concern (LoC) has been sent to Estonian company Est-For Invest OÜ. Signed by a number of Estonian NGOs and by the Environmental Paper Network (EPN), a civil society movement promoting sustainable practices in the pulp and paper industry, the LoC expresses worries about the planned Est-For BioRefinery development in Estonia.

Mixed hardwood and softwood pulpwood at a state-of-the-art pellet mill logyard in southern Estonia. Given the long distance to the nearest pulp mill, pellet production offers an economic and environmentally sound pulpwood use option. According to Eesti Statistika, around 1.2 million tonnes of pellets were produced in 2016 of which 90% was exported.

Mixed hardwood and softwood pulpwood at a state-of-the-art pellet mill logyard in southern Estonia. Given the long distance to the nearest pulp mill, pellet production offers an economic and environmentally sound pulpwood use option. According to Eesti Statistika, around 1.2 million tonnes of pellets were produced in 2016 of which 90% was exported.

In January this year, Est-For Invest OÜ, a Tallinn-based investment vehicle revealed plans for an EUR 1 billion biorefinery project for Estonia. In May, the Estonian government launched a designated spatial planning process for the building of a modern biorefinery and the accompanying infrastructures, as well as a strategic assessment of its environmental impact.

The purpose of the designated spatial planning process is to find the most suitable location for the EstFor BioRefinery within Viljandi or Tartu County in the immediate vicinity of River Emajõgi and to create the detailed plan for the suitable site to enable construction permitting.

A Letter of Concern (LoC) has been sent to Est-For, signed by a number of Estonian NGOs and by the Environmental Paper Network (EPN). The letter expresses worries about the planned Est-For biorefinery development, as according to the signatories there appear to be insufficient safeguards in place to prevent negative impacts on the environment.

The concerns raised by the groups include the following environmental, social and political risks of “this huge project”:

  • Due to increased pollution from the refinery, the water quality of River Emajõgi and Lake Peipus may worsen.Estonian forests may degrade further.
  • Estonia is committed to sustainable forestry but has failed to create a sufficient legal framework to effectively protect its biodiversity and carbon stock. Therefore the additional timber demand for the refinery is very likely to harm biodiversity and lower the carbon stock.
  • Estonian forests may degrade further. Estonia is committed to sustainable forestry but has failed to create a sufficient legal framework to effectively protect its biodiversity and carbon stock. Therefore the additional timber demand for the refinery is very likely to harm biodiversity and lower the carbon stock.The procurement policy for the planned refinery is inadequate. The developers have not made a commitment to source only FSC certified timber and are therefore willing to use timber from sources that cannot guarantee
  • The procurement policy for the planned refinery is inadequate. The developers have not made a commitment to source only FSC certified timber and are therefore willing to use timber from sources that cannot guarantee sustainability of their operation. This would create an unwanted market for non-certified timber.
  • The environmental impact assessment (EIA) may not give satisfactory results as it is being given to the lowest public tender, with insufficient attention to quality. The legal requirements for the EIA are not appropriate for the scale of this project.
  • Estonia has a history of weakening environmental regulations in favour of large operations once they face difficulties. A refinery of this size would give undue importance in political processes to access to raw materials.

The groups acknowledge that the ongoing EIA and licensing process may safeguard against some of these risks, but say that substantial voluntary measures from both the company and state are needed to “ensure full sustainability” of the plan and that until this happens they are “warning against investment” in the Est-For BioRefinery development.

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