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Unlawful coal plant Maritsa III challenged in Bulgaria’s Supreme Court

Environmental lawyers are challenging a Bulgarian coal plant in the country’s Supreme Administrative Court. They claim the plant is currently operating under an unlawful permit that allows it to pollute over legal limits.

Bulgaria-based NGO Za Zemiata and international lawyers ClientEarth are working together to bring the case.

If the case is successful, the permit will be annulled and the plant, located in Dimitrovgrad, will either have to get a new permit, or shut down.

ClientEarth lawyer Sam Bright said: “Bulgaria’s coal plants have an abysmal track record of illegal pollution and shaky permitting. Elsewhere in the EU, coal is losing ground. Bulgaria risks being left behind if it keeps pouring money into the dirtiest source of energy. It’s time to get ahead and ensure a just transition for workers and communities.”

Legal pressure builds on Bulgarian coal

Za Zemiata originally challenged the permit in Sofia’s court in 2016 over on a lack of reporting that made it impossible to know whether Maritsa III complied with the Industrial Emissions Directive (IED) and the LCP BREF 2006 pollution standards.

Several other shortcomings in the permit issuing procedure – including lax nitrogen oxide limitation measures, and failure to consider energy efficiency – mean it is in potential violation of key EU pollution laws.

The case was dismissed on the basis of an expert opinion that the environmental lawyers say did not go far enough. The current case is an appeal.

Sam said: “It’s not good enough that the previous case was dismissed – the court failed to fully address the risk the plant poses to people’s health. We will keep pushing until the plant’s impact on people and the environment is accounted for. Maritsa III needs to comply or close.”

ClientEarth this year brought complaints to the European Commission about alleged illegal state aid allocated to the Bulgarian coal industry.

Several EU countries have announced coal phaseout deadlines this year, but Bulgaria is among those that still lobby heavily for coal. The health impacts of coal burning in Europe are well documented, most recently by the Europe’s Dark Cloud report, which ranks Bulgaria in the top five countries in Europe for its coal pollution.

The challenge coincides with the launch of Europe Beyond Coal, an international campaign to move EU countries towards a clean, renewable energy system.

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