ClientEarth and WWF take Italy’s most polluting coal plant to court

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Snow falls on coal sitting in a freight wagon ahead of shipping at the dressing mill at the Sibir coal processing plant operated by OAO Mechel Mining, a unit of OAO Mechel, near Myski, Kemerovo region, Russia, on Tuesday, Feb. 24, 2015. The company, which employs about 70,000 people, is included in a list of about 200 "systemically important" enterprises that Russia said it may support under a government plan to stabilize the economy. Photographer: Andrey Rudakov/Bloomberg

Italy’s largest and dirtiest coal plant is facing legal action by environmental lawyers.

The plant could lose its permit to operate if the case is successful.

WWF Italy and ClientEarth claim the new permit for Enel’s Federico II power plant in Brindisi is illegally allowing it to pollute above legal limits.

The plant has undergone no environmental or health impact checks in 24 years, according to the green groups, but has been granted permission to operate for another 11 years.

The Italian health minister and regional authorities had already raised their concerns over the plant’s emissions and their impact on people’s health.

The case, submitted today to Lazio’s regional administrative court, aims to annul that permit.

There are serious concerns over the plant’s health impact. A study by the regional environment agency Arpa Puglia and the Department of Epidemiology of the Lazio Regional Health Service shows links between increased levels of industrial pollutants, and respiratory conditions, heart disease and deaths from cancer.

These results were known several months before the new permit was awarded and were discussed in a meeting of the Italian parliament’s environmental committee dedicated specifically to the Federico II power plant.

ClientEarth lawyer Ugo Taddei said: “It is scarcely believable that the authorities granted a new permit for this plant, completely ignoring clear evidence of the health impacts for the local population.

“Everyone has the right to live in a clean and healthy environment. Plant owners have a legal and moral obligation to ensure the best available techniques are being used to protect people’s health – we’re fighting to uphold this obligation.”

Mariagrazia Midulla, climate and energy director at WWF Italy, said: “This action against Federico II is symbolic in our fight to bring an end to the coal era, for the health of people, the planet and the climate. The simple fact is that the health of an entire community is being jeopardised by this plant. It has cast a shadow over one of Italy’s most beautiful regions.

“Now’s the time to start developing clean, renewable energy. We want a clear, concrete judgment that overturns the status quo, putting an end to this plant’s longstanding pollution saga and prompting the restoration of the region.”

The Italian government has just announced a national coal phaseout meaning, if it goes through, that all plants in the country will have to be closed by 2025.

Taddei added: “The phaseout needs to happen as soon as possible, for the health of people and the planet. In the meantime, we cannot allow remaining coal power plants to break pollution rules.”

Federico II comes in at number 14 in the “Dirty Thirty” list of Europe’s biggest carbon polluters.

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