Green groups say Greece granting illegal permits to polluting plants

The Agios Dimitrios coal-fired plant in northern Greece is the country's largest and is owned by the state-run power company. [Wikimedia Commons]

Environmental activists have accused Greece of violating an international convention by directly granting permits to its national energy company and making it impossible for anyone to launch a legal challenge against them.

Under the Aarhus Convention, states are required to ensure access to environmental justice but a complaint filed by WWF Greece and ClientEarth on Wednesday (13 September) accuses the Greek government of failing to do so.

For the last 15 years, successive governments have granted and renewed permits for coal-fired power stations operated by the state-owned Public Power Cooperation (PPC) through legislative rather than administrative procedures.

This has bypassed administrative authorities and prevented members of the public or interest groups from challenging the permits, despite the possible risk to public health posed by the continued operation of the plants.

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ClientEarth lawyer Eleni Diamantopoulou said: “No one in Greece has had the right to challenge this process and PPC’s permits can be waved through. The Greek state is blocking proper scrutiny of the process and must be held accountable for denying the public this right.”

The complaint, which has been accepted by the Aarhus Convention Compliance Committee and is now pending examination, pointed out that other power producers are subject to normal administrative procedures, which means permits can be challenged.

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In 2001, the Greek parliament issued PPC a licence that covered all its power plants. While intended to ensure safety for both employees and the environment, the fact it was granted via legislative process means it has never been scrutinised.

Greece’s Ministry for the Environment and Energy should have, under normal conditions, allocated individual permits to each plant but the so-called Single Provisional Operation Permit has since been extended several times.

A 2011 law also extended outdated environmental permits for each of PPC’s plants, which the complaint lodged with the Aarhus Convention claims have not been updated to reflect the EU’s 2016 Industrial Emissions Directive (IED).

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WWF submitted a similar complaint to the European Commission in March 2016 but the EU executive replied that it would not open an infringement procedure against Athens. However, the Commission did open a file on whether Greece had fully implemented the IED.

On 31 December, the current permit expires and it is expected that the Greek parliament will adopt a new law, extending it once again. Diamantopoulou urged Athens to “think twice and refrain” from doing so and called for “normal administrative procedures to prevail”.

Greece and the Commission have a history of coming to blows over industrial emissions. In 2010, Brussels told Athens to comply with the Integrated Pollution Prevention and Control Directive (IPPC), after Greek authorities failed to report their findings between 2006-2008.

New rules for Large Combustion Plants (LCPs) came into effect in August, which give operators four years to bring their facilities up to code. Compliance costs are estimated to top €15bn, which has led many industry experts to predict operators will choose to shut up shop rather than investing in expensive filters and renovation.

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