Government ‘could withdraw farm permits’ to slash nitrogen-based pollution


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The government could legally withdraw the permits of farms whose operations emit too high volumes of nitrogen-based pollution if it wants to solve the crisis quickly, according to formal advice to the farm ministry, the AD reported on Tuesday.

The paper said that withdrawing the licences of highly polluting farms close to nature reserves would force their closure more quickly than buying out farmers, a process which can take years.

The paper quotes government lawyer Hans Besselink as saying that ‘buying out farmers may not lead to speedy results’ but that ‘withdrawing permits may do so’.

The comment is contained in a letter to the farm ministry and is a reaction to a ministry paper outlining plans to reduce the number of livestock farms close to nature reserves.

While the government’s focus in on voluntary buy-outs, ‘there are no reasons from a legal perspective’ not to withdrawn licences or issue compulsory purchase orders, Besselink said.

A spokesman for the ministry confirmed that it had received the legal advice but said no decisions had yet been taken. ‘We are looking at what steps could be taken to further tackle the nitrogen crisis,’ the spokesman said. ‘That exercise is ongoing.’

Scenarios

Last week, the Dutch environmental assessment agency published a number of scenarios about what could be done to tackle livestock farming, including compulsory purchase orders.

‘But that would be a last resort,’ farm minister Carola Schouten told MPs.

Compulsory buyouts would be a response to the low take-up of voluntary buyout offers. Fewer than 300 pig farmers have signed up for a scheme to give up their business, although twice as many initially applied.

The agricultural sector is the biggest source of nitrogen pollution in the Netherlands and numerous large-scale infrastructure projects which also produce nitrogen have also been put on hold.

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