Dutch court denies RWE, UNIPER damages for coal phase-out. Rejects ia ‘permit defence’ under the EU Emissions Trading Scheme ETS.

RWE’s case (seeking huge damages for the impact on its assets following the Dutch coal phase-out) under investor-State dispute settlement (ISDS) continues I understand (I would also suggest it is problematic given the ECT’s fork in the road provisions), while Uniper’s will be dropped as part of its bail-out conditions. Yet this post is about yesterday’s first instance Uniper judgment and RWE judgment in the Dutch courts. I use the Uniper judgment for this post, the RWE judgment is not materially different as to its legal analysis.

Of note is first of all that these judgments are by the ‘commercial’ chamber at the Den Haag court, not an ‘environmental’ chamber. This might be relevant for those wishing to present the judgment as one of a maverick band of environmental crusaders.

RWE and UNIPER’s claims are based on ‘A1P1‘ (Article 1 of the First Protocol to the European Convention on Human Rights) and Article 17 of the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the EU, both of which protect the right to property.

[5.6] the court lays out the benchmarks (translation courtesy of DeepL and double-checked by me):

( a) is there “possession” (property)

( b) is there “interference,” that is, deprivation or regulation of the right to property?

If both these conditions are met, then the following requirements are examined:

( c) is the interference “lawful,” that is, provided for by law;

( d) if so, does the infringement have a legitimate objective that serves to promote the “general interest,” and

( e) if so, is there a “fair balance,” that is, a reasonable balance, between the requirements of the general interest and the protection of the fundamental rights of the individual?

The latter “fair balance test” is not satisfied if there is an individual and excessive burden on the person concerned.

[5.9] the State had argued that uncertain future earnings are not caught by A1P1 however the court [5.10] disagrees. The corporations have a long-term guarantee to use of the site, ia via a long-term lease. That the earnings might potentially not qualify as possessions, does not diminish the qualification of the guaranteed economic interest as ‘property’.

Interference, lawfulness and general interest are established each in one para [5.11 ff] , and did not seem to be the focus of much discussion even by the parties.

Fair balance is discussed extensively [5.14] ff. [5.15.3] the court qualifies the measure as regulatory interference and not de facto expropriation (the latter would have triggered guaranteed compensation rights). Even if electricity generation using coal will be phased-out, after the end of the transition period, Uniper will continue to have use of the site and has indeed already assumed such use in announced coal-free business plans.

The court then discusses the foreseeability at length, concluding [5.16.31] that although the Dutch Government frequently expressed support for modern facilities generating electricity using coal, this was always done with the caveat that that method had to be compatible with the Dutch climate commitments. [5.16.35] the ETS permit defence is dismissed.

[5.17.9] the court, having studies the various scientific reports presented to it, holds that there are most definitely alternative uses for the site. That their profitability is uncertain, is simply also a feature of energy markets as a whole.

[5.18] the court holds that the Dutch coal phase-out does have an effect on reduced CO2 emissions (carbon leakage is not accepted as being of much relevance to that conclusion). For the measure to be considered not the least trade-restrictive, the Dutch State is held to have a wide margin of manoeuvre and it is not established that the State gravely erred in opting for a coal phase-out [5.18.7]. The long transition period is held to substantiate enough room for compensation [5.19.6], again with reference to the volatility of market returns as being part and parcel of energy markets full stop.

Like the Dutch judgments eg in Urgenda, this judgment on protection of property rights viz GHG emission reduction policies, is likely to serve as an international benchmark. It can be appealed, of course.

Geert.

Attempt in the Austrian courts to repeal air traffic tax breaks puts polluter pays and CJEU Deutsche Bahn judgment in the spotlights.

A late-ish flag to keep an eye on Greenpeace’s class-action suit filed in the Austrian courts to have the Austrian tax breaks on air traffic (tax exemption on kerosene fuel for domestic flights and a VAT exemption on international flights) lifted. It is certain to engage the Chicago Convention and the European implementation of same. The argument is inter alia that the non-exemption for rail is a form of State Aid to the airlines. I wrote on the issues in 2016, featuring T-351/02 Deutsche Bahh, arguing that the CJEU could have forced the issue then. What would be most excellent would be for the Austrian courts to refer to Luxembourg so as the CJEU may revisit the issue 14 years on from the judgment of the then Court of First Instance, in a world were many look a lot less forgivingly at the exemptions’ implications for internalising negative environmental externalities.

Geert.

EU environmental law (with Leonie Reins), Edward Elgar, 2018.

 

 

Gloucester Resources: A boon for climate change law and ‘ecologically sustainable development’ in Australia.

Update 30 September 2019 the judgment was quoted heavily in the Independent Planning Commission (IPC)’s refusal of a permit for the Bylong Valley Coal Mine – a gateway with more documentary links is here.

Update 8 May 2019 it was announced that Gloucester Resources will not be appealing hence the judgment stands.

Update 1 April 2019 Australian Coal Alliance Incorporated v Wyong Coal Pty Ltd [2019] NSWLEC 31 was held slightly later (review of the case here) and is a good illustration of the difference between judicial review and merits review.

Gloucester Resources v Minister for planning [2019] NSWLEC 7 is perfect material for my international environmental law classes at Monash come next (Australian) winter (September). Proposition is a permit for an open cut coal mine. Consent was refused on the basis of 3 reasons: the creation and operation of an open cut coal mine in the proposed location is in direct contravention of each zone’s planning objectives; the residual visual impact of the mine would be significant throughout all stages of the Project; and the Project is not in the public interest. Refusal was evidently appealed.

Preston CJ, the Chief Judge of the Land and Environment Court of New South Wales delivered serious support for an internationally engaged Australian (New South Wales) climate law approach. Although he did cite the Paris Agreement (439 ff: providing context to Australia and NSW’s future challenges; and including an interesting discussion on the balanced measures that might be needed to achieve Australia’s Paris Goals, refuted at 534 ff) and the UNFCCC, he did not need Paris, Kyoto, UNFCCC or anything else ‘international’ to do so. He applied the NSW principle of ‘ecologically sustainable development’ (ESD; a notion which often rings tautologically to my ears).

A blog post cannot do justice to a 700 para judgment – Note the following paras:

At 694 ‘Acceptability of proposed development of natural resource depends not on location of natural resource but on sustainability. One of the ESD principles is sustainable use– exploiting natural resources in manner which is ‘sustainable’ ‘prudent’ ‘rational’ ‘wise’ ‘appropriate’

At 696 ‘In this case, exploitation of coal resource in Gloucester valley would not be sustainable use and would cause substantial environmental and social harm. The Project would have high visual impact over the life of the mine of about two decades. The Project would cause noise, air and light pollution that will contribute to adverse social impacts. Project will have significant negative social impacts; access to and use of infrastructure, services and facilities; culture; health and wellbeing; surroundings; and fears and aspirations…The Project will cause distributive inequity, both within the current generation and between the current and future generations.’

At 514: rejection of the relevance of the limited impact which the project will have on Australia’s GHG emissions overall, with reference to US (EPA v Massachusetts) and the Dutch Urgenda case.

No doubt appeal will follow – a case to watch.

Geert.

 

 

From well to wheel. But not for Australia’s mines and their climate impact.

In Coast and Country Association of Queensland Inc v Smith & Ors [2016] QCA 242, the Queensland Court of Appeal held among others that the Land Court was correct not to include emissions from the burning of coal ex Australia, in the environmental impact assessment part of permitting decisions relating to Queensland coal mines: ‘It is outside the Land Court’s jurisdiction under s 269(4)(j) Mineral Resources Act 1989 (Qld) to consider the impact of activities beyond those carried on under the authority of the proposed mining lease, such as the impact of what the Land Court described as “scope 3 emissions.” These include environmentally harmful global greenhouse gas emissions resulting from the transportation and burning of coal after its removal from the proposed mines.’

As BakerMcKenzie note (a good summary of the issues which I happily refer to),  this does not mean that such impact may not be taken into account at all:  It can be considered when weighing up whether “the public right and interest is prejudiced”, and as to whether “any other good reason has been shown for a refusal”. However the Land Court tends not to have much sympathy for that view: contrary to eg the Dutch approach in the Urgenda case, the Land Court views the coal market as essentially demand driven: if no Australian coal is used, other coal will be – so one might as well make it Australian.

The High Court of Australia, Baker report, have now confirmed (without formally endorsing the approach), that Land Courts decisions wil not be subject to further appeal on these grounds. (So far I have only found the reference to the case on the Court’s ledger).

Not much prospect for well to wheel considerations in Queensland /Australia therefore. Interesting material for a comparative environmental law class.

Geert.

 

 

%d bloggers like this: