(CN) – Europe’s highest court ruled that environmental groups are entitled to a review of administrative decisions, contrary to German law.
The Court of Justice of the European Union Thursday said a German branch of Friends of the Earth should be allowed to challenge the construction of a new coal-fired plant in North Rhine-Westphalia.
Friends of the Earth had opposed a partial permit issued by a regional administrative authority for the Trianel coal plant in Lünen. A German court referred the case to the Luxembourg-based European high court, as national law allowed for very limited legal intervention by nongovernmental organizations.
The latest decision says that parties with an interest in the issue can seek judicial review under a European directive implementing the Aarhus Convention, intended to increase public participation in environmental decisions.
Environmental groups clearly have such an interest, the court said, since they act on behalf of the public. National legislation thus may not confine the ability of legal action in such cases to individuals, the court decided.
The EU directive’s requirement to prove injury does not depend on the group’s proximity to a challenged installation, the judges added.
During the Court of Justice hearing last June, Advocate General Eleanor Sharpston indicated the direction of the ruling, referring to potential environmental harm by allegedly saying, “Fish cannot walk into court.”
There are five national conservation areas within 5 miles of the site, the court pointed out. An environmental assessment indicated the new plant could impact those sites.
Friends of the Earth had questioned the plant’s emissions, along with impacts to water and wildlife habitat. The group called upon the government to quickly apply the European ruling to national law.
The 750-megawatt plant would go operational next year. Trianel, the company behind the plant, says it will cost nearly $2 billion and should supply 1.6 million households with power.
Trianel claims implementation of modern technology would make the Lünen plant’s emissions negligent. Cooling operations there would increase the temperature in the nearby Lippe River by less than 0.2 degrees Fahrenheit, the company says.