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Sister power plants in Greece face court challenge for disregarding people and planet

Environmental organisations are mounting a legal challenge against two Greek power plants for their failure to comply with EU, national and international laws.

WWF Greece, Greenpeace Greece and ClientEarth are seeking to annul an environmental permit recently renewed by the Greek Ministry of Environment and Energy for both the existing lignite-fired power plant Meliti I and its future sister plant Meliti II.

The new permit updates a licence that was granted in 1998. The new permit will be valid until 2028.

The Greek state granted the permit without evaluating the impact the two plants will have on the health of people, the environment and the climate. Known as an Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), this evaluation is required when granting an environmental permit. Failure to carry out an EIA breaches both EU and Greek law.

ClientEarth lawyer Eleni Diamantopoulou said: “Greece’s power plants have an abysmal track record of shaky permitting, which consistently fails to protect its citizens and the environment from the harmful effects of burning lignite. Yet once Meliti II is constructed, it will only amplify these effects currently intoxicating the region.”

The previous EIA was conducted 22 years ago and at that time did not consider the impact the plants’ activities would have on people’s health and the climate.

The Greek state granted the new permit despite no new EIA having been conducted since the original one expired in 2009. It also ignored the findings of the 2016 Climate Change Adaptation Report that showed that Greece’s major source of CO2 emissions comes from burning lignite.

Lignite, a low grade and highly inefficient form of coal, is used in the current and potential future Meliti plants.

Diamantopoulou added: “Elsewhere in the EU, coal is losing ground. The IPCC special 1.5°C report published last week highlighted that ambitious action needs to be taken now to tackle climate change yet Greece keeps pouring money into the dirtiest source of energy. It’s time to get ahead and ensure a clean and just transition for citizens, workers and communities.”

The future plant is slated to be built near its namesake close to the northern Greek border. This means pollution will not only affect those in Greece but also people in adjacent countries.

However, neither Greeks nor those in neighbouring countries were consulted or participated in the decision-making process of the permit, which the Greek government is required by law to do.

WWF Greece Climate and Energy Policy Officer Nikos Mantzaris said: “The IPCC report and the recent changes in European environmental legislation leave no room for doubt. Persisting to exploit lignite in Greece will not only be catastrophic for the climate, the environment and public health, but also very expensive for Greek citizens.

“Pushing for the construction of a second lignite plant, especially without a long-term energy plan in place, and without giving the opportunity to citizens to participate in the permitting process, is utterly condemnable.”

The hearing for these power plants will possibly be scheduled in 2019.

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