IIDMA files complaint against the European Commission’s inaction on the environmental infringements of 4 Spanish coal plants

  • The International Institute for Law and the Environment (IIDMA) has filed a complaint this morning before the European Ombudsman.

  • In 2020, IIDMA lodged a complaint before the EC, reporting that 4 Spanish coal-fired power plants updated their environmental permits without submitting the mandatory baseline reports needed to determine whether soil and groundwater had been polluted.

  • According to IIDMA, the EC has violated the principles of Good Administration by failing to take a decision on its complaint since it was filed.

The EU Industrial Emissions Directive requires that the operation of a combustion plant does not increase soil or groundwater pollution in the site where the plant is located. To this end, the Directive requires the operators of all plants to prepare a so-called baseline report which, allows to make a comparison between the state of the site described in the report and the state of the site before closing the plant. 

Spanish coal plants Anllares, Compostilla, La Robla and Velilla (located in the region of Castilla y León) should have had their baseline reports in place in 2014, in order for their permits to be updated, as required by environmental legislation. However, the regional administration updated those permits without requesting the mandatory reports. These 4 power plants closed between 2018 and 2020. However, the absence of baseline reports,doesn’t allow  to determine the level of environmental damage caused to the sites as there is no prior report allowing to make a comparison.

This was why, in March 2020, the International Institute of Law and the Environment (IIDMA) lodged a complaint before the European Commission. According to IIDMA, the lack of baseline reports doesn’t allow to determine whether significant environmental damage has occurred at the sites. It also makes it impossible to request the adoption of appropriate remediation measures by the operators such as controlling, reducing or removing pollutants where the pollution at the sites also entails a significant risk to human health or the environment.

In its complaint, IIDMA requested the EC to open an infringement procedure against Spain for breaching EU environmental legislation. However, almost 2 years later, the European Commission has still not taken a position on the matter.

In view of the inaction of the Commission, this morning, IIDMA has filed a complaint before the European Ombudsman. The complainant organization has claimed that the EC has failed to act in accordance with the principles of Good Administration recognised in the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union and in the European Code of Good Administrative Behaviour. It has also alleged a breach of the rules governing the Commission´s handling  of such complaints and the deadlines for their investigation.

IIDMA bases its complaint on the fact that the European Commission has  clearly exceeded the one-year deadline for investigating complaints from the date of their registration, and has failed to inform IIDMA about this delay. Furthermore, it has not replied to the letter sent by IIDMA in November 2020, requesting information to follow-up the status of its complaint.

Eco-friendly decarbonisation

By filing both complaints (first before the EC in 2020 and second before the EU Ombudsman this morning), IIDMA aims to ensure that Spain’s energy transition goes hand in hand with an effective environmental protection. Coal is the most polluting fossil fuel, and its phase-out is key to achieve the objectives of the Paris Agreement.

“Coal phase-out cannot be done at the expense of the environment. It is key to ensure that the decarbonization process does not entail negative environmental impacts. This is why it is crucial to ensure that the closure and decommissioning of coal plants in Europe does not lead to  soil and groundwater contamination in the sites where the plants have operated for decades”, says Ana Barreira, senior lawyer and Director of IIDMA.

The 4 coal plants in Castilla y León are currently in the initial phase of decommissioning, so ensuring a safe procedure is a priority for IIDMA. “Even in the absence of baseline reports, it is essential to ensure that the necessary assessments are carried out to determine whether  contamination has taken place at these sites and, if so, to ensure their effective restoration. The European Commission should not wait any longer to take action against Castilla y León,” says Alba Iranzo, environmental lawyer at IIDMA.