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ClientEarth and WWF take Italy’s most polluting coal plant to court

Italy’s largest and dirtiest coal plant is facing legal action by environmental lawyers. The plant could lose its permit to operate if the case is successful.

WWF Italy and ClientEarth claim the new permit for Enel’s Federico II power plant in Brindisi is illegally allowing it to pollute above legal limits. The plant has undergone no environmental or health impact checks in 24 years, but has been granted permission to operate for another 11 years.

This is even more astonishing given that the Italian health minister and regional authorities had already raised their concerns over the plant’s emissions and their impact on people’s health.

The case, submitted today to Lazio’s regional administrative court, aims to annul that permit.

Burning health questions

There are serious concerns over the plant’s health impact. A study by the regional environment agency Arpa Puglia and the Department of Epidemiology of the Lazio Regional Health Service shows links between increased levels of industrial pollutants, and respiratory conditions, heart disease and deaths from cancer.

These results were known several months before the new permit was awarded and were discussed in a meeting of the Italian parliament’s environmental committee, dedicated specifically to the Federico II power plant. But they were completely overlooked when it came to renewing the permit.

ClientEarth lawyer Ugo Taddei said: “It is scarcely believable that the authorities granted a new permit for this plant, completely ignoring clear evidence of the health impacts for the local population.

“Everyone has the right to live in a clean and healthy environment. Plant owners have a legal and moral obligation to ensure the best available techniques are being used to protect people’s health – we’re fighting to uphold this obligation.”

ClientEarth is leading several such legal battles for clean air and clean energy across Europe, including for the UK, Germany, Belgium, Spain, Bulgaria, Greece and Italy.

No light at the end of the tunnel for coal

Mariagrazia Midulla, climate and energy director at WWF Italy, said: “This action against Federico II is symbolic in our fight to bring an end to the coal era, for the health of people, the planet and the climate. The simple fact is that the health of an entire community is being jeopardised by this plant. It has cast a shadow over one of Italy’s most beautiful regions.

“Now’s the time to start developing clean, renewable energy. We want a clear, concrete judgment that overturns the status quo, putting an end to this plant’s longstanding pollution saga and prompting the restoration of the region.”

The Italian government has just announced a national coal phaseout meaning, if it goes through, that all plants in the country will have to be closed by 2025.

Taddei added: “The phaseout needs to happen as soon as possible, for the health of people and the planet. In the meantime, we cannot allow remaining coal power plants to break pollution rules.”

The 2016 Europe’s Dark Cloud report estimated that coal burnt in Italy had been contributory to the equivalent of 350 premature deaths in the country in 2015. It listed Italy in the top countries where people’s health was most impacted by coal.

Federico II comes in at number 14 in the “Dirty Thirty” list of Europe’s biggest carbon polluters. It is also the subject of a criminal investigation for the illegal disposal of toxic waste – a dangerous practice that allowed the operator to save about half a billion euros over five years.

ClientEarth is part of Europe Beyond Coal, an international campaign launched this month to speed the clean energy transition across the continent. You can find more information on the Federico II plant in this interactive map of Europe’s coal plants.

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