In C‑212/18 Prato Nevoso Termo Energy the CJEU held on the not always straightforward concurrent application of the Waste Framework Directive (WFD) 98/2008 and the various Directives encouraging the uptake of renewable energy. It referred i.a. to the circular economy and to precaution.
On the face of it the economic and environmental benefits of the case may seem straightforward. Prato Nevoso operates a power plant for the production of thermal energy and electricity. It applied for authorisation to replace methane as the power source for its plant with a bioliquid, in this case a vegetable oil produced by ALSO Srl, derived from the collection and chemical treatment of used cooking oils, residues from the refining of vegetable oils and residues from the washing of the tanks in which those oils were stored. ALSO has a permit to market that oil as an ‘end-of-waste’ product within the meaning of relevant Italian law , for use in connection with the production of biodiesel, on condition that it has the physico-chemical characteristics indicated in that permit and that the commercial documents indicate ‘produced from recovered waste for use in biodiesel production’.
Prato Nevoso was refused the requested authorisation on the ground that the vegetable oil was not included in a relevant Italian list, which sets out the categories of biomass fuels that can be used in an installation producing atmospheric emissions without having to comply with the rules on the energy recovery of waste. The only vegetable oils in those categories are those from dedicated crops or produced by means of exclusively mechanical processes.
The argument subsequently brought was that the refusal violates Article 6 WFD’s rules on end-of-waste, and Article 13 of the RES Directive 2009/28. That Article essentially obliges the Member States to design administrative procedures in such a way as to support the roll-out of renewable energy.
The CJEU first of all refers to its finding in Tallina Vesi that Article 6(4) of Directive 2008/98 does not, in principle, allow a waste holder to demand the recognition of end-of-waste (EOW) status by the competent authority of the Member State or by a court of that Member State. MSs have a lot of flexibility in administering EOW in the absence of European standards. That the use of a substance derived from waste as a fuel in a plant producing atmospheric emissions is subject to the national legislation on energy recovery from waste, is therefore entirely possible (at 39). A13 of the RES Directive has no impact on that reality: that Article does not concern the regulatory procedures for the adoption of end-of-waste status criteria.
Nevertheless, the MS’ implementation of the RES Directives must not endanger the attainment of the WFD, including encouragement of the circular economy etc. and likewise, the WFD’s waste hierarchy has an impact on the RES’ objectives. A manifest error of assessment in relation to the non-compliance with the conditions set out in Article 6(1) of Directive 2008/98 could be found to be a MS violation of the Directive.
At 43: ‘It is necessary, in this case, to examine whether the Member State could, without making such an error, consider that it has not been demonstrated that the use of the vegetable oil at issue in the main proceedings, in such circumstances, allows the conclusion that the conditions laid down in that provision are met and, in particular, that that use is devoid of any possible adverse impact on the environment and human health.’ At 44: ‘It is for the national court, which alone has jurisdiction to establish and assess the facts, to determine whether that is the case in the main proceedings and, in particular, to verify that the non-inclusion of those vegetable oils in the list of authorised fuels results from a justified application of the precautionary principle.’
At 45 ff the CJEU does give a number of indications to the national judge, suggesting that no such infringement of the precautionary principle has occurred (including the reality that specific treatment and specific uses envisaged of the waste streams, has an impact on their environmental and public health safety). At 57: It must be considered that the existence of a certain degree of scientific uncertainty regarding the environmental risks associated with a substance — such as the oils at issue in the main proceedings — ceasing to have waste status, may lead a Member State, taking into account the precautionary principle, to decide not to include that substance on the list of authorised fuels’.
An important judgment.
Handbook of EU Waste law, 2nd ed. 2015, OUP, 1.166 ff and 1.189 ff.