Rapid industrialization in the North raises pollution levels, but emphasis is on economic growth and development rather than environmental protection. Constitutional articles provide for the protection of Italy's natural, historic, and cultural heritage without details or means to enforce any form of compliance.
Italy establishes general environmental legislation. The Clean Air Law of 1966 delegates responsibility to local governments for setting standards, permitting, and monitoring. The Water Pollution Control Law of 1976 controls discharges of industrial and municipal wastes into surface waters. But Italy's concern for the environment lacks concrete policy and goal-setting mechanisms.
Substitution of natural gas for coal brings a dramatic reduction in sulfur oxides emissions, but overall pollution rates continue to rise. Responsibility for environmental protection is divided among several national institutions and poorly coordinated. A massive earthquake kills more than 3,000 people in the Naples area, causing considerable environmental and economic damage.
International influences such as treaties and United Nations conventions drive environmental action. Italy establishes a Ministry of the Environment, charged with coordinating government activities. Several Italian firms export hazardous waste to developing nations until international pressure forces the Italian government to assume all costs to recover the waste and repair environmental damage.
The Ministry of the Environment develops a planning process based on Three-Year Environmental Management Programs. The Ministry, however, has minimal resources, and other national agencies retain responsibility for many environmental matters in their sector. The government delegates certain implementation duties regarding land and water management and industrial pollution to the country's regions.
The Ministry of the Environment drafts its first 10-year environmental plan and implements "polluter pays" principles, holding air and water polluters fully responsible for environmental damage. Weaknesses in the legislative process cause some difficulties with the European Union as Italy provides the least amount of information of all EU members regarding the implementation of union directives.
The government creates the Environmental Protection Agency to function as the Ministry of the Environment's field liaison by gathering data, supervising compliance, and providing technical support in setting environmental standards. Compliance on environmental matters varies from region to region as regional governments have significant autonomy in implementing environmental law.
National laws are structured to provide a basic framework but depend on legal and regulatory texts at the regional level, resulting in uncoordinated and uneven implementation of environmental policy. In 2000 the European Union issues a warning to Italy following the country's failure to respond to European Commission requests for environmental information.
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