• 2001-11-29
Lithuania now has to deal with the consequences of yet another shameful environmental accident. Some 10 tons of oil have leaked from the Butinge terminal last week into one of the Baltic region's beauty spots, the third major spill in two years of operation of an enterprise doomed to remain a dangerous threat to the environment.

This time, luckily, no third party suffered. But Lithuania hasn't compensated Latvia for damages resulting from the previous oil slick. This is making relations with its neighbor sticky. Riga is demanding $1.25 million.

Doubly embarrassing for Lithuania was that the incident coincided with the visit of the European Union commissioner for environmental protection. She arrived just in time to observe Lithuanian rescue teams armed with the miraculous Simple Green. Her quote in this newspaper should perhaps be read reversed: "Such accidents take place quite often, so unfortunately the Baltic Sea is very polluted."

And the red-faced Lithuanian authorities shouldn't kid themselves when speaking with such polite EU bureaucrats, who always seem to be satisfied with the way such problems are dealt with. They are not.

The whole story might not be worth mentioning, as it's too late to preach when a disaster has already happened. But to Latvians at least, it seems that the Lithuanian government is doing everything it can to be a potentially dangerous neighbor.

With its stubborn stance against the shutdown of the Chernobyl-type Ignalina nuclear power station, also located just a few kilometers from the Latvian border, a closure consistently and insistently required by the EU, Lithuania risks staying behind in the enlargement race.

It would be hard to overestimate the potential consequences of an accident at Ignalina. This reactor was built during the Cold War to be blown up in case of a NATO attack to the Soviet Union. This perhaps should be borne in mind when grieving about the loss of a source of cheap energy.

Butinge oil terminal was built to outdo Latvia's port of Ventspils as quickly as possible despite shouts from environmental protesters against its potential danger for the environment.

There's nothing wrong with having an oil terminal. But it's wrong to save money on environmental security by running it on the cheap and hoping everything turns out OK. Unfortunately, such reasoning usually turns out to be wrong.