(CN) - Europe's highest court ruled that environmentalists can challenge only the overall emissions policies from new power plants, not specific permits.
Environmental groups in the Netherlands, including a Dutch branch of Greenpeace, joined with Dutch citizens in challenging permits for three power plants running on coal and biomass. The plants, two of which are planned for the Rotterdam area, would go operational by 2012 at the earliest.
A 2008 European Union directive integrated 2001 pollution limits for power-plant emissions, establishing a deadline of the end of 2010 for scaled emissions reductions.
The environmentalists argued that the Netherlands shouldn't grant permits for the new power plants, or should place special restrictions on them, since nationwide emission ceilings would clearly be exceeded by 2010.
The Court of Justice of the European Union's ruling, which applies to the transitional period from 2002 to 2010, said EU member states deserved flexibility in striking a balance among various interests.
A single permit decision does not necessarily compromise the overall results and goals of a coherent set of policies, the Luxembourg-based court continued.
As such, individuals should not be allowed to file legal challenges against specific permits, according to the ruling, which goes on to say that they could still challenge a seemingly unsuccessful body of policies as a whole.
Member states must make their pollution-control plans comprehensible and available to the public, the court added.
The power-plant pollution directive applies to sulphur dioxide, nitrogen oxides, volatile organic compounds and ammonia.
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