The Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) ruled on March 9 that Bulgaria broke the law by allowing the Maritsa East 2 coal-fired thermal power plant to pollute the air with sulphur dioxide (SO2) beyond EU legal limits.
The ruling followed a prejudicial request by the Bulgarian Administrative court in a lawsuit filed by Greenpeace Bulgaria and For the Earth NGOs.
The ruling creates a precedent for more lawsuits against air polluters, Greenpeace Bulgaria commented in a press release.
At the end of 2018, the Bulgarian government granted the state-owned Maritsa East 2 TPP a derogation to burn more coal. The derogation gave the coal plant’s operators indefinite permission to emit almost double the amount of sulphur dioxide (SO2) allowed by EU law.
In a case brought by Greenpeace and For the Earth, with support from ClientEarth, environmental lawyers asked the Bulgarian court to revisit the decision, given the plant’s outsized impact on the region’s air pollution.
“Today's ruling is a victory for public health. Bulgaria still has the highest levels of toxic sulphur dioxide pollution in the EU, which has real-world impacts – from strokes to respiratory diseases and even deaths. The ruling also protects Bulgarian taxpayers, who ultimately bear the burden of health care costs related to pollution,” Meglena Antonova, director of Greenpeace’s Bulgarian office, said in a joint press release from the three environmentalist NGOs.
Nearly 40% of the energy in Bulgaria is produced by coal-fired power plants with more than 95% of the fuel being lignite. The biggest coal-fired power plant is the state-owned Maritsa East 2 with capacity of 1.61 GW of the total 3.85 GW capacity of all coal-fired power plants.