Environmental activists have accused Greece of violating international environment-protection treaties by granting permits to its national energy company, and making it impossible for anyone to launch a legal challenge against them, a Euractiv report says.
Under the Aarhus Convention, states are required to ensure access to environmental justice. Greece, however, has failed to do so, according to a complaint filed by WWF Greece and ClientEarth on Wednesday.
For the last 15 years, successive governments have granted and renewed permits for coal-fired power stations operated by the state-owned Public Power Corporation (PPC), through legislative rather than administrative procedures, Euractiv says.
This prevents the public or interest groups from challenging the permits, despite the possible risk to public health posed by the continued operation of the coal-fired plants.
ClientEarth lawyer Eleni Diamantopoulou spoke to Euractiv saying: “No one in Greece has had the right to challenge this process and PPC’s permits can be waved through. The Greek state is blocking proper scrutiny of the process, and must be held accountable for denying the public this right.”
The complaint, which has been accepted by the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee and is now pending examination, pointed out that other power producers are subject to normal administrative procedures, which means permits can be challenged.
In 2001, the Greek parliament issued PPC a licence that covered all its power plants. While intended to ensure safety for both employees and the environment, the fact that it was granted via legislative process means it has never been scrutinised, the report continues.
Greece’s Ministry for the Environment and Energy should have given individual permits to each plant, but the so-called Single Provisional Operation Permit has since been extended several times.
A 2011 law also extended outdated environmental permits for each of PPC’s plants, and the complaint lodged with the Aarhus Convention claims have not been updated to reflect the EU’s 2016 Industrial Emissions Directive (IED).
WWF submitted a similar complaint to the European Commission in March 2016, but the EU executive replied that it would not open an infringement procedure against Athens. However, the Commission did open a file on whether Greece had fully implemented the IED.
On December 31, the current permit will expire, and it is expected that the Greek parliament will adopt a new law, extending it once again. Diamantopoulou urged Athens to “think twice and refrain” from doing so and called for “normal administrative procedures to prevail”, Euractiv says.
Greece and the European Commission have argued often over industrial emissions. In 2010, Brussels told Athens to comply with the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directive (IPPC), after Greek authorities failed to report their findings between 2006-2008.
New rules for Large Combustion Plants (LCPs) came into effect in August, which give operators four years to bring their facilities up to code. Compliance costs are estimated to exceed 15 billion euros, which has led many industry experts to predict operators will choose to shut down rather than investing in expensive filters and renovation, the Euractiv report concludes.