A court in Belgrade has ruled in favor of the Renewables and Environmental Regulatory Institute (RERI) and ordered state power utility Elektroprivreda Srbije (EPS) to reduce sulfur dioxide (SO2) emissions in coal-fired power plants, citing the threat they pose to human health and the environment.
Earlier studies showed that thermal power plants in the Western Balkans emit 2.5 times as much SO2 as those in the EU, increasing air pollution in the region.
The Renewables and Environment Regulatory Institute (RERI) filed a lawsuit against EPS in January 2021, following several requests for extraordinary inspection at its power plants because their SO2 emissions had drastically exceeded the maximum allowed amounts. The requests were rejected by the Ministry of Environmental Protection, which claimed they were ungrounded, said RERI.
EPS has had the obligation to reduce SO2 emissions since January 2018.
The court determined that the initiation of civil proceedings was the only remaining legal instrument to stop further harm to human health and the environment.
Since January 2018, EPS has been under the obligation to reduce SO2 emissions from its facilities, in accordance with the National Emissions Reduction Plan (NERP), which Serbia committed to by ratifying the Energy Community Treaty. However, in 2018 and 2019 alone, the coal-fired power plants Nikola Tesla (TENT A and TENT B) and TE Kostolac emitted six times as much SO2 as they were allowed, and this trend continued in the following years, RERI stated.
Pulmonologist Dragana Jovanović: multiple exceedances of SO2 emissions lead to a wide range of impacts on human health
According to RERI, the court ruling is largely based on an expert analysis by Professor Dragana Jovanović, a pulomonologist, which the organization had commissioned to support the lawsuit.
In her findings, Jovanović established beyond doubt that multiple SO2 emission excedances cause a wide range of outcomes for human health, such as difficulty breathing, the development of asthma, bronchitis, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, up to the most serious ones, such as increased mortality from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases, dementia, stroke, impairment of normal fetal development, and lung development disorders in children.
Popović: the ruling must not remain just another piece of paper
Mirko Popović, program director of RERI, said the aim of the lawsuit was to protect the health of citizens, which was threatened due to the multiyear violation of domestic and international regulations by EPS. He also said that the court was guided by the European Convention on Human Rights when deciding on the case, and that it ordered EPS to bring its activities into line with the regulations.
“Therefore, this verdict must not remain just another piece of paper, and we expect EPS to observe it and implement the necessary measures in order to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions to the allowed limits in the future,” he stressed.
Rajić: the verdict is the first of its kind based on a regulation adopted almost 50 years ago
According to Jovan Rajić, lawyer and chairman of the board of RERI, this judgment is the first such ruling ever passed in Serbia based on Article 156 of the Law on Contracts and Torts. That article allows any citizen or legal entity to file a lawsuit against anyone who pollutes the environment or endangers the health of an unspecified number of people, according to him.
The court has confirmed that with these increased SO2 emissions EPS has endangered the health of citizens of Serbia and beyond, says Rajić.
Although EPS has the right to appeal to a second-instance court, Rajić hopes the company will immediately start activities aimed at lowering SO2 emissions, given that the judgment is based on a ratified international treaty. The implementation of the treaty is mandatory and in the public interest.
NERP refers to emissions of EPS’ thermal power plants
Serbia’s obligation to implement the NERP, and EPS’ obligation to comply with the annual limits of sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, came into effect on January 1, 2018, in line with the decision of the Ministerial Council of the Energy Community on the implementation of the EU’s Large Combustion Plants Directive (LCPD).
The NERP refers to thermal power plants which cannot comply with the annual limits of pollutants from the LCPD, so they apply the NERP instead, as an instrument for reducing emissions harmful to health and the environment, RERI said.