An interview with Mr Patrick Lawrence Sweeney, international technical expert on the project IED Serbia 

The New IED Serbia Project Provides Comprehensive Support to the Competent Authorities in Serbia

In the course of his professional career spanning for more than thirty years Mr Patrick Lawrence (Leo) Sweeney has been dealing with the permitting and regulation of environmental emissions from industrial installations. He is a Chartered Biologist and has completed professional qualifications in general, planning, and environmental law. He spent more than twenty-five years working in the Irish Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) leading multidisciplinary teams and motivating their professional work. He has represented the EPA at national and EU events, contributing to and influencing the development of policies related to environmental regulation and management at both the national and European levels. Since 2000, he has been working intensively as an international technical expert on numerous projects in the field of environmental protection, and since 2015, he has been working on projects implementing the Industrial Emissions Directive in Serbia. He retired from the EPA in 2019 and currently works as a private consultant providing advice on environmental regulation, both in Ireland and internationally.

IED Serbia: Leo, can you briefly tell us about your background and many years of experience working as a Senior manager with the Irish EPA and what strengths and learnings you believe you can share in your present role working in Serbia with industry, local experts and representatives of competent authorities responsible for environmental protection?

Mr Leo Sweeney: I initially began my career working as a scientist with an Irish local authority dealing with all aspects of environmental regulation. Local authorities in Ireland have responsibility for a broad range of environmental functions including water quality, groundwater, waste waters, drinking water, air, noise, waste, etc. As part of a very small team, I had responsibilities that ranged from collecting samples, doing the analysis, and preparing various reports to include recommendations. Occasionally court appearances were also necessary. Consequently, I gained experience and made my share of mistakes during my time spent here. I subsequently joined the EPA in 1994 shortly after they were formed. As a new organisation the EPA was faced with implementing new legislation and policy and developing systems and procedures in accordance with national as well as EU legal and administrative requirements. Over my 25 years spent with the EPA I worked at a number of levels and in various roles but primarily in permitting and enforcement. In my view, the strengths I have as a team member in this present Serbian project relies on my ability to share my experience and expertise with others which hopefully will fast-track and build on their professional experience.

I have been coming to Serbia since 2009 working with various donor groups on a variety of environmental improvement projects. Consequently, I am quite familiar with the legislation, systems, policies, and practices in Serbia having regard to the protection of human health and the environment. I am currently working on the project “Green Transition – Implementing Industrial Emissions Directive in Serbia 2021-2025″. My role here essentially involves providing support to the Ministry of Environmental Protection of the Republic of Serbia (Ministry) in the preparation of the secondary legislation introduced by the new law on IPPC. This is essentially achieved through a number of targeted and practical mechanisms. This is broadly delivered through the implementation of Best Available Techniques (BAT) through the preparation of draft Industrial Emissions Permits. This is supported through the provision of training to permit writers and inspectors at the Ministry and local level. Consequently, the existing policy, systems and practices are realigned with best practice European Community (EC) environmental legislative and administrative requirements. The IPPC permit issued as a result of this process implements BAT at a local level resulting in the overall protection of human health and the environment.

My role involves direct contact, co-operation, and liaison with personnel from the Ministry and competent authorities with responsibility for permitting and inspections in addition to personnel from the industry that we visit. The colleagues I work with are well-educated professionals who have many years of experience in their field. I see my role as overlaying the existing permitting and enforcement practices and orienting them to meet the EC. The colleagues I work with are enthusiastic, cooperative, and interested. They do not always agree with my views and are quick to point out anomalies or a better way of approaching a particular problem. I always enjoy and indeed learn myself from these interactions.

The training workshops and site visits provide a platform for developing closer working and operational relationships with inspectors. It gives me great personal pleasure and satisfaction when I observe the professional development and progression of individuals, as well as elements of the training provided to inspectors, introduced during the site visits. 

IED Serbia: You are engaged as an expert on the project “Green Transition – Implementing Industrial Emissions Directive in Serbia 2021-2025” primarily involved in drafting integrated permits for selected industrial operators and transferring knowledge to your Serbian colleagues from the inspection through several modules of theoretical and practical training in the field. In your opinion what area of environmental protection needs the most attention in the work in the field? What are the key points, and where is the room for most improvement?

Mr Leo Sweeney: I have been coming to Serbia since 2009 and look forward to each and every visit. It’s not just the fantastic food, drink, and hospitality, but in particular, I enjoy working with my Serbian work colleagues and the many people I get to meet during our visits to industrial installations throughout the country.  

I have on many occasions visited industrial installations in Serbia where I have been more than impressed with the environmental management and operation of the facility which meets with, and in some instances exceeds, BAT and European legislative requirements in many respects. From an environmental perspective, I am constantly dismayed to see unauthorised waste disposal sites dotted around the countryside. Such unauthorised dump sites can give rise to a significant environmental impact on surface, ground, and drinking water resources. In addition, they often become dumping grounds for hazardous wastes and may give rise to odour and vermin problems locally.  Furthermore, the impacts from these disposal sites can continue for multiple years into the future. There is also the point that they will eventually have to be cleaned up which will involve enormous cost and expense to the taxpayer and exchequer. On a positive note, however, there is a considerable work ongoing in the area of the development of regional landfills.

IED Serbia: Since your experience in Serbia in working with numerous representatives of the professional public is rich and diverse, what are your recommendations for young people who are finishing their studies and want to focus on the field of environmental protection and devote their career to issues of reducing industrial pollution?

Mr Leo Sweeney:  A career in environmental science, in my opinion, is such a diverse and broad area there is always something new to learn and it is never without its challenges. As an environmental scientist, your science knowledge will be stretched across a broad range of fronts in all aspects of the environment and human health. You will be required to have some level of knowledge of the environmental impact on each of the environmental media as well as familiarity with mitigation and control measures and techniques to address the impacts. At times you will be required to be a microbiologist, biologist, chemist, engineer, etc. In addition, you will be required to have an understanding and appreciation for a mountain of environmental legislation and regulation.

As an environmental scientist working in regulation, it is always necessary to consider the situation or problem you are faced with from a scientific perspective as well as a legal perspective.  I use the analogy of the two hats – firstly consider the problem and solution from an environmental perspective, you should then take your environmental hat off and putting on your legal hat, consider the situation from a legal perspective. As a regulator you will need to ensure you are addressing the requirements of both areas. It is a career you never stop learning in and never get bored. I am so glad that I have been lucky enough to work in this area and can only highly recommend it to anyone who has an interest in a varying and challenging future.