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Regional Spanish government authorised illegal emissions, court rules

The Supreme Court of Asturias, in north west Spain, has ruled the regional government allowed a power plant to operate on an illegal permit, after a legal challenge from ClientEarth’s Spanish partners, IIDMA.

The judgment forces the Government of Asturias to modify the permit given to the coal-fired power station Soto de Ribera giving it tougher emission limits for sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and dust.

The Asturias government had approved a permit for the plant which allowed it to emit more of these pollutants than was allowed under the Directive.

The judgment upholds the rules laid out by the EU Industrial Emissions Directive (IED), which sets limits on the levels of harmful pollutants that industrial installations like power stations can pump out.

Important Decision

ClientEarth lawyer Sam Bright said: “This is an important decision, which will start alarm bells ringing with other regional governments in Spain that failed to update coal plant permits to reflect the new emissions limits.

“Governments must make sure the rules are followed. It’s their job to protect us from breathing harmful levels of pollution and to protect our environment.”

IIDMA also provided scientific evidence to the court on the high levels of mercury in soil near the Soto de Ribera coal plant.

Exposure to mercury can cause serious health problems, such as respiratory, cardiovascular and neurological diseases. Based on this evidence, IIDMA asked the Supreme Court of Asturias to include emission limits for mercury in the plant’s permit as required by the IED.

However, the court dismissed this argument and IIDMA will appeal this point to the Supreme Court of Spain.

The plant also discharges its waste water into a river which is designated as a special area of conservation included in the EU’s Natura 2000 network.

According to the EU Habitats Directive and further Spanish legislation, Soto’s permit should include measures to avoid habitat deterioration and disruptions that may affect the animals there, such as salmon. This was another argument put forward by IIDMA but finally dismissed by the Court. IIDMA will also appeal this.


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Adrián Metasboc