Sliven, Bulgaria

Environmental lawyers move to stop Bulgarian plant burning harmful waste

An old electricity and heat–generating plant in Bulgaria has been granted a permit allowing it to burn harmful municipal waste.

Environmental lawyers are challenging the permit, which does not comply with new, tougher EU pollution laws. Local residents are supportive of the challenge.

The ownership of the 50-year-old plant, in the city of Sliven, is linked to Hristo Kovachki, an energy tycoon who has recently been the subject of a Greenpeace report on the financial practices that prop up Bulgaria’s coal industry.

The new permit was approved at the end of January by the Executive Environment Agency.

ClientEarth lawyer Dominique Doyle said: “Bulgaria has ongoing problems with illegal pollution from its power and heating plants, ordinarily from coal. Plans to burn waste at this plant are even worse. It is doubtful such an old power plant is equipped to burn this waste, especially so close to residents.”

Residents’ objections were ignored during the permit process, despite the plant, already a big polluter, posing an immediate risk to their health.

The legal challenge, brought by national campaigners Za Zemiata (Friends of the Earth Bulgaria) working together with ClientEarth, aims to have the permit resubmitted to the agency for review. However, the lawyers stressed that the town’s heating should not come under pressure in the interim.

Doyle said: “The plant provides domestic heating to the town and should not be shut down – but an alternative fuel must be found. Burning waste in this way is a major hazard for anyone living in the town and the Executive Environment Agency should not have granted the plant owner permission to do it.”

Legal pressure mounting in Bulgaria

Bulgaria is under fire over its performance on air pollution. Currently the holder of the EU Presidency, the country has just announced a crackdown on urban pollution from domestic heating and older passenger vehicles.

However, disappointingly, Bulgaria has recently joined Poland in a legal challenge that aims to slap down new and better EU pollution laws, and access to justice remains a major problem for Bulgarians.

Za Zemiata, working with ClientEarth, has previously worked together to challenge an illegally polluting plant in Dimitrovgrad. ClientEarth has also brought two legal complaints to the European Commission that allege Bulgarian authorities have granted energy subsidies in violation of EU law.

A hearing in the Sliven case is expected in the coming months.

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Evgeni Dinev