Dutch Economic Affairs Secretary Sharon Dijksma announced Monday that after years of debate on the issue of reducing nitrogen from farm waste runoff into the European Union-designated "Natura 2000" network of nature protection areas, a bill to do so has been submitted to lawmakers.
In a statement, Dijksma touted the government's Programmatic Approach to Nitrogen bill, which was first proposed in 2009 and has gone through several failed attempts and a prolonged period of negotiations with stakeholders such as farmers' organizations, provincial governments, local water boards, and industrial and transportation groups.
"In the Netherlands, more than 130 Natura 2000 sites have high loads of nitrogen," she said. "This is due to economic activities such as agriculture, transport and industry. This bill, the Programmatic approach to Nitrogen, brings clarity in the rules so that nature and the economy can be balanced for their mutual benefit."
Dijksma's aim is to have the law in force by Jan. 1, but its chances of passing the Dutch's Parliament's House of Representatives remains unclear due to concerns it will block farm expansion.
It is also facing doubts about its affordability and feasibility, the Dutch farming trade journal Boerderij reported.
Nitrogen from animal manure, industrial emissions and from cars is ending up in the country's Natura 2000 sites and must be reduced, the government says.
The 166 Netherlands sites are not strict nature preserves where most human activities are excluded, but rather mostly privately owned land deemed valuable for the protection of biodiversity. Their owners are encouraged to be manage them ecologically as well as for producing income.
They are at the center of the EU's efforts to assure the long-term survival of Europe's most valuable and threatened species and habitats.
Excess nitrogen in the nature areas are seen as harmful to their biodiversity, encouraging the growth of grasses, brambles and nettles while displacing other plant species.
Local Dutch governments and water boards have been slow to adopt management plans for the areas due to uncertainty about what kind of development activities will be allowed there.
For instance, activities that lead to more nitrogen in Natura 2000 areas now often can't be licensed even if nitrogen increases are small or if the activity that generates the increase is taking place outside protected area.
But the government, farmers and nature conservation organizations have been hammering out a national bill through which they say certain levels of development would be allowed while also significantly reducing nitrogen into vulnerable habitats and providing a financial assistance.
The new legislation, Dijksma asserted, would ensure that authorizations would once again be granted, for example, for the expansion of agricultural companies or for the building of roads because it contains a "specific calculation tool" to determine how much room there is for new economic development.