Heated debate in Iceland’s Parliament lasted until midnight last night, RÚV reports. The topic was a bill proposing a Highland National Park, which if established would be the largest national park in Europe. While some MPs argued the bill went too far in preventing power plant development, others said it made too many concessions at the expense of the environment.
As the fall term draws to a close and 2021 elections approach, the governing coalition is hurrying to introduce and pass some of its most significant bills. Environment Minister Guðmundur Ingi Guðbrandsson introduced the Highlands National Park bill in the chamber yesterday afternoon, calling it a unique opportunity for Althingi to create the largest national park in Europe and Iceland’s largest contribution to nature conservation in the world. Guðmundur asserted that the establishment of the park would strengthen tourism, create public jobs, and support municipalities across the country.
Opposing Views on Energy
MPs had opposing views when it came to the park, particularly on the topic of current and future energy development in the highland. Several power plants are currently within the proposed borders of the park – the bill proposes defining them as “peripheral areas” of the park and that the land they occupy not be protected. Further energy development within the park’s borders would, however, be prohibited.
Independent MP Rósa Björk Brynjólfsdóttir stated that too many power plants were allowed within the park’s borders and the bill had made too many compromises at the expense of the environment. Progressive Party MP Halla Signý Kristjánsdóttir argued, however, that the bill threatened energy security by preventing energy development. The bill would affect existing overhead power lines in the highland, as well as planned underground cables and maintenance of the existing transmission system, she stated.
Criticise Lack of Consultation With Municipalities
Several MPs were critical of what they called a lack of consultation with municipal authorities, particularly those bordering the proposed park. Independence Party MP and former Minister of Transport Jón Gunnarsson stated that the bill was put together too quickly and felt personally that views on the project had diverged rather than come to a consensus.