TILT Seminar: Tellervo Ala-Lahti (LL.M.), PhD researcher at University of Helsinki

Date: Time: 14:30 Location: hybrid meeting: Room M1002 and Teams Meeting

The legal status of novel water circulation technologies in the light of environmental permitting processes

The effectiveness of environmental regulation depends partially on its ability to support and foster new technological practices and innovations, tools for securing sustainable societies. Balancing between the need for precaution and the advancement of innovative solutions is not an easy task for adjudicators interpreting the regulation. The EU has suggested adopting innovation principle as a tool for the task. The constantly growing stringency of water pollution regulation serves as an incentive for developing circular water economy technologies. The environmental precautionary principle potentially curbs the use of technological innovations as they are perceived riskier than the older solutions. But simultaneously, both precaution and innovations are needed for sustainable societies.

My focus will be on techno-scientific knowledge applied in litigations concerning environmental permit processes. In the permit management, the Best Available Technique (BAT) principle guides the choice of technology, although permitting is primarily concerned with environmental impacts rather than technology.  The subjects of my evaluation are especially technologies whose novelty is beyond “emerging technologies” which are introduced in BAT’s reference documents (BREFs). In other words, these novel technologies are not commercially developed referring to preamble 14 of the EU's Industrial Emissions Directive. However, recent case law has emphasized the importance of the environmental objectives of the Water Framework Directive. Consequently, compliance with the BAT requirement might not be sufficient if the operation jeopardizes the achievement of good status of waters. 

Hitherto, I have studied cases discussing novel technologies from the Vaasa Administrative Court where appeals on Finnish Environmental Pollution Act are centralized. The cases discussing tech innovations are rather few. In general, the Vaasa Court has been very reluctant to assess novel technologies' influence in the matter. Although the Court seems to aim for technology neutrality, in line with European Commission’s neutral regulatory design – e.g., in Research and Innovation Toolbox #21–, its interpretation practice might hinder innovations since the Court is reluctant to assess the risks and uncertainties. Just as the Court, made possible by expert judges, assesses the risk and uncertainty concerning natural scientific knowledge, why would it not assess these factors concerning technological innovations which can also be assessed in the light of scientific knowledge? In doing so, the Court would make the legal status of novel technologies transparent and stabilize the operating environment. 

Speaker: Tellervo Ala-Lahti (LL.M.), PhD researcher at University of Helsinki. 

Tellervo Ala-Lahti is a researcher on a project related to the circular economy of waters in industrial processes, (CEIWA-project). Her research interests are new technologies, precautionary principle, innovations, and the relationship between (techno)science and law. The precaution approach entails concentration on uncertainty and risk assessment. The above will be concretized in the context of environmental permitting procedures.

Besides her Master’s thesis concerning recycling of nutrients, Ala-Lahti has published a research article with Professor of Environmental Law, Kai Kokko, titled “Scope of the environmental assessment of the plans and programmes in light of the case law of the EU court.” Currently T. Ala-Lahti is working on her first dissertation article, the abstract of which is presented below. In addition, Ala-Lahti is an author beside Dr. Tiina Paloniitty in the book chapter “EU and plastics” (preliminary title) of Research Handbook on Plastics Regulation: Law, Policy and the Environment, to be published in 2023.

Moderator: Leonie Reins, Assistant Professor at TILT (Tilburg Law School)

*Attendance is free. To register for this event please contact: Maartje van Genk