Environmentalists say that Poland bent the law to get free greenhouse gas emissions permits for 13 unbuilt coal plants, the day before it took over the EU presidency on 1 July.
The EU’s emissions trading scheme (ETS) was designed to deter high carbon investments. But free emissions allowances granted to coal plants under its auspices could actually provide an incentive to pollute.
An appeal to the Environment Ministry in Warsaw is now “imminent,” according to the green NGO Client Earth, and further moves could follow.
“We’re looking at legal action in Poland,” Karla Hill, Client Earth’s director of programmes, told EurActiv.
“We will also be presenting evidence to the European Commission on the status of these projects and asking it to reject any elements that don’t apply.”
Brussels must approve Poland’s free allocation plans after the end of September 2011. Up to 11,700MW of electricity could then be generated by the new coal plants.
Polish authorities granted the free permits for the ETS on 30 June on the basis that the investment process had been “physically initiated” before 31 December 2008.
But Client Earth argues that only one of the 14 investors had a valid building permit at the time of application.
According to Piotr Turowicz, an energy lawyer for the group, “the remaining 13 plants don’t meet the eligibility criteria, shouldn’t have been given greenhouse gas permits, and consequently, cannot be included in the national application for derogations that Poland is going to send to the European Commission by the end of September”.
Warsaw refutes claims
Renata Bancarzewska, a spokeswoman for the Polish Permanent Representation to the EU in Brussels, sent EurActiv a statement refuting these claims.
“The criteria from the European Commission Communication gave a basis for local authorities to grant a greenhouse gas emission permit fully in line with Polish and European law, taking into account specific circumstances related to the investment process in the energy sector in Poland,” she said.
But in a hint of disquiet over the permits, she continued: “Nevertheless this issue will be a subject of special interest to the central authorities which will endeavour to avoid a fraudulent allocation of free allowances to the installations.”
Poland’s energy policy has emerged as a key area of tension as its six-month tenure as EU president begins.
On the country’s first day in the hot seat, the parliament in Warsaw approved legislation enabling the construction of two nuclear reactors at an estimated cost of €18-21 billion.
Poland ‘can’t afford’ CO2 targets
Speaking shortly before that, Prime Minister Donald Tusk insisted that Poland would resist the imposition of ambitious EU CO2 emissions reduction targets, although other European states could do as they liked.
“When it comes to the Polish economy we simply can’t afford it,” he was quoted as saying.
“Poland produces 95% of its electricity from high [CO2] emitting coal and our European partners must remember this.”
Polish Budget Commissioner Janusz Lewandowski shocked Brussels last week by giving an interview in which he questioned whether climate change was even happening, or whether fuels such as coal could be contributing to it.
A statement on his website claimed that he had been quoted “out of context” but in a recorded interview on 22 June, his spokesman Michael Karnitschnig told EurActiv that the quote was accurate.
“He [Lewandowski] just expressed his personal views,” Karnitschnig said. “It would be dishonest to say he never said that.”
The spokesman stressed that Lewandowski had consistently supported a move away from coal in Poland, “but we started behind you in the West,” he implored. “So give us time to adapt.”