A round-up of the latest environmental court cases.

10th August 2015

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A round-up of the latest environmental court cases.

Serious pollution prosecutions in England decline

There were 81 prosecutions for waste, water quality and emissions monitoring offences in England in 2014, a 21% decrease from 2013 when the Environment Agency secured 118 convictions. The figures are from the agency’s summary of serious pollution incidents in England in 2014.

It also reveals that the number of enforcement notices was up, with 245 issued in 2014 compared with 205 in 2013. The notices require operators to ensure sites comply in the future and put right any damage caused to the environment. Since 2011, the agency has had the power to issue enforcement undertakings, which allow offenders to pay to clean up the damage caused and improve the environment rather than pay fines. The number issued had been increasing each year, but there was a 20% decline in 2014 compared with 2013 – 43 compared with 54.

The number of serious pollution incidents in England in 2014 declined by 11% compared with 2013, according to the data. Serious pollution incidents are those classified as category 1 or 2. There were 614 last year and 688 in 2013. The latest figures also reveal a 23% decrease in incidents at sites regulated by the agency under the Environmental Permitting Regulations (EPR) – from 323 in 2013 to 249 in 2014. However, the number of pollution incidents recorded at non-permitted sites, such as those regulated under the Water Resources Act, increased by 6% – from 218 in 2013 to 232 in 2014. Of the serious pollution incidents in 2014, 59% had an impact on water and 32% affected air. Incidents caused by sites with permits mainly affected air, while those caused by non-permitted sites and unidentified sources mainly affected water.

Legal warning to Dutch government

The Dutch government has been ordered by the district court of The Hague to adopt more stringent climate policies to reduce the contribution of the Netherlands to global greenhouse-gas emissions. The Urgenda Foundation, a sustainable development campaign group, which brought the case with nearly 900 co-plaintiffs, claimed the ruling was the first time a judge has legally required a state to take precautions against climate change.

The court ruled that the government must ensure Dutch emissions in 2020 are at least 25% lower than in 1990. It noted that current policy would achieve a reduction of 17% at most in 2020, which the court said is below the norm of 25% to 40% for developed countries. “The state must do more to avert the imminent danger caused by climate change, also in view of its duty of care to protect and improve the living environment. The state is responsible for effectively controlling the Dutch emission levels. Moreover, the costs of the measures ordered by the court are not unacceptably high. Therefore, the state should not hide behind the argument that the solution to the global climate problem does not depend solely on Dutch efforts,” it said.

Utilities challenge Hinkley C

Ten Austrian and German utility companies have united to file a legal complaint with the EU Court of Justice over UK government subsidies for the proposed new nuclear plant at Hinkley in Somerset.

The European commission approved the subsidy in October 2014, but the alliance alleges that the approval process contained “numerous legal errors”. One organisation involved in the action is German cooperative Greenpeace Energy. Its managing director, Soenke Tangermann, claimed the subsidy package could distort the European energy market. “We want the Court of Justice to annul the commission’s decision because these exorbitant nuclear subsidies are an unlawful operational aid from our point of view,” he said. “They should never have been approved.”

The other organisations include the municipal utilities of Aalen, Bietigheim-Bissingen, Bochum, Mainz, Muehlacker, Schwäbisch Hall and TÜebingen.

The Austrian government has complained separately to the court about the subsidy. The Austrian chancellor, Werner Faymann, said the subsidies should only support “new and modern technology”, which did not apply to atomic energy.


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