ClientEarth and WWF Greece have filed a complaint against the Greek state for violating an international agreement by effectively making it impossible to challenge unlawful permits for many of the country’s coal-fired power plants.
For more than 15 years, Greek governments have used laws that directly granted, renewed and extended the permits of coal-fired power plants owned by the national power company, Public Power Corporation (PPC), bypassing the respective public authorities.
By filing permits through legislative procedures instead of administrative ones, the Greek government has prevented the public from challenging permits that could be allowing PPC to pollute above legal limits and endanger public health.
The complaint, to the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee, was accepted this week and will now be examined.
ClientEarth lawyer Eleni Diamantopoulou said: “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.”
Under normal conditions, the Ministry for the Environment and Energy should have issued separate operation permits for each coal plant. Instead, a “Single Provisional Operation Permit” covering all of PPC’s power plants has been extended several times by the Greek parliament, most recently in December 2015. As this operational permit was granted through legislative procedures it cannot be judicially reviewed and has therefore never been scrutinised.
WWF Greece Climate and Energy Policy Officer Nikos Mantzaris said: “Greek governments of the last 16 years have been applying preferential treatment regarding the permit process of Greek lignite plants.”
“Hopefully, the admissibility of our complaint will send a message to the Greek government to render its permitting practices more transparent.”
Extensions through legislative acts were also granted to PPC’s outdated environmental permits. This means PPC’s environmental permits have not yet been updated to reflect the EU’s Industrial Emissions Directive requirements that came into force on 1 January 2016.
If the complaint is upheld, it could pave the way for legal challenges against most of PCC’s coal-fired plants.