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Press release: 23 July 2019
Environmental organisations have challenged the Greek government’s decision to illegally extend the lifetime of one of its most polluting power plants.
ClientEarth and The Green Tank have taken the Greek government to Greece’s Supreme Administrative Court to annul the extension of the operating hours of coal power plant Amyntaio.
The permit extension goes against EU environmental laws and was made despite repeated objections from the European Commission.
ClientEarth lawyer Eleni Diamantopoulou said: “The Greek government has knowingly violated EU law by illegally extending the lifetime of Amyntaio. This is not acceptable.
“This move is illegal, ignoring major health and environmental threats posed by the plant.”
Amyntaio’s previous permit allowed it to operate under a so-called “limited lifetime derogation”, which lets plants carry on running without meeting strict emissions limits, but for a limited time only.
Under this scheme, Amyntaio was limited to operating 17,500 hours over the period 2016-2023. However, by the end of last year, the plant had already exhausted its hours and would have had to power down.
In desperation, Greece repeatedly asked the European Commission if it could extend the hours to nearly double what had been approved. The Commission consistently objected, as the plant was not eligible for the extension under EU environmental law.
However, the Greek government ignored the European Commission’s decision, illegally granting the much-coveted extension to Amyntaio at the end of last year.
Diamantopoulou added: “Amyntaio is one of Greece’s top polluters, gravely compromising human health, nature and the climate. The Greek government has a duty to protect its citizens, but by illegally extending lifetime, the government is side-stepping the law to put industry interests before the health of people and the planet.”
Amyntaio, which burns lignite, a low-grade form of coal, is Greece’s biggest emitter of sulphur dioxide (SO2) – a harmful gas with known negative impacts on people’s health. It emits 8.4 times the legal limit for SO2 for large power plants.
In 2017, the lignite mine feeding Amyntaio collapsed, endangering the lives of the people living in the adjacent village, Anargyroi, and forcing many to evacuate. Two years later, the villagers have yet to be formally relocated or compensated for the damages.
Nikos Mantzaris, senior policy analyst & partner at The Green Tank, said: “The Greek government and PPC – the owner of Amyntaio – have been finding exemptions to environmental legislation to facilitate Greece’s coal industry for many years. By defying the Commission and extending Amyntaio’s operating hours, they have stooped to new lows.
“It is high time that compliance with the law, and protection of the climate, the environment and public health took the front seat in Greece’s energy policy. It is the new government’s duty to revoke the Joint Ministerial Decision of the previous government, which extended the lifetime of the plant.”
A hearing is expected in the coming months.
ClientEarth’s energy lawyers have also supported WWF Greece and Greenpeace Greece to bring challenges against lignite-fired power plants Megalopoli A and B, Agios Dimitrios, Meliti I and its future sister plant Meliti II.
A study by the European Environment Agency found that Greece is one of the most vulnerable countries to climate change in Europe. Studies have noted a worsening of droughts, storms, forest fires and heatwaves in Greece over the last few years associated with human-driven climate change.
Despite a heavy reliance on lignite-burning for power in Greece, there has been no major national study to date on its effects on people’s health. However, the report “BREF compliance for lignite plants – a cost-benefit analysis” showed that from 2012-2016, the annual cost of Greek plants failing to comply with the new emission limit values amounted up to €583 million, with Amyntaio power plant accounting for up to €170 million.
ClientEarth is a charity that uses the power of the law to protect people and the planet. We are international lawyers finding practical solutions for the world’s biggest environmental challenges. We are fighting climate change, protecting oceans and wildlife, making forest governance stronger, greening energy, making business more responsible and pushing for government transparency. We believe the law is a tool for positive change. From our offices in London, Brussels, Warsaw, Berlin and Beijing, we work on laws throughout their lifetime, from the earliest stages to implementation. And when those laws are broken, we go to court to enforce them.
The Green Tank is an independent, non-profit think tank based in Athens, Greece developing policy solutions for a sustainable future. Our work relates to the three pillars of sustainable development, environment – economy – society, with emphasis on: