Posts Tagged EIA

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.

 

 

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Ready steady, flare? The ECJ in Marktgemeinde Straßwalchen limits the scope of ‘commercial’ yet insists on strict cumulation test.

In a judgment undoubtedly with consequences for the fracking industry in the EU, the ECJ held yesterday in Marktgemeinde Straßwalchen, Case C-531/13. Rohöl-Aufsuchungs AG had obtained authorisation to undertake exploratory drilling within the territory of the Marktgemeinde Straßwalchen (Austria)  up to a depth of 4 150 metres, without environmental impact assessment. The Marktgemeinde Straßwalchen and 59 other persons have challenged that decision before the Verwaltungsgerichtshof (Administrative Court).

The EIA Directive‘s key element is that not all projects are subject to mandatory EAI. Only projects listed in Annex I of the Directive are subject to a mandatory EIA. Annex I lists for example crude-oil refineries, thermal and nuclear power stations which fulfill certain production or output thresholds. Projects listed in Annex II of the Directive, are subject to a screening procedure of the Member States. Screening is commonly referred to as the process by which a decision is taken on whether or not an EIA is required for a particular project. The competent authority in the Member States can make this decision either based on a case-by-case examination or by establishing thresholds or criteria, or both.

‘Extraction of petroleum and natural gas for commercial purposes where the amount extracted exceeds 500 tonnes/day in the case of petroleum and 500 000 cubic metres/day in the case of gas’ is included in Annex I, sub 14. However the Court held that exploratory drilling even if by nature it is ‘commercial’ (lest it be carried out purely for research purposes), does not meet the conditions of Annex I entry 14, for that provision links the obligation to conduct an environmental impact assessment to the quantities of petroleum and natural gas earmarked for extraction. Prior to an exploratory drilling operation, the actual presence of hydrocarbons cannot be determined with certainty. An exploratory drilling operation is carried out in order to establish the presence of hydrocarbons and, where they are found, to determine the quantity and ascertain, through a trial production, whether or not a commercial operation is feasible. Thus, it is only on the basis of an exploratory drilling operation that the quantity of hydrocarbons that can be extracted per day can be determined. Moreover, the quantity of hydrocarbons earmarked for extraction in such a trial, as well as its duration, are restricted to the technical needs arising from the objective of establishing the feasibility of a deposit.

No mandatory EIA therefore on the basis of Annex I. However, Annex II, in entry 2 d), includes ‘Deep drillings, in particular:(i) geothermal drilling;(ii) drilling for the storage of nuclear waste material; (iii) drilling for water supplies; with the exception of drillings for investigating the stability of the soil’. Exploratory drilling falls under that entry. With reference to previous case-law, the ECJ emphasises that notwithstanding the discretion enjoyed by national authorities vis-a-vis projects included in Annex II, the characteristics of a project must be assessed, inter alia, in relation to its cumulative effects with other projects. Failure to take account of the cumulative effect of one project with other projects must not mean in practice that they all escape the obligation to carry out an assessment when, taken together, they are likely to have significant effects on the environment. With this approach the ECJ has countered the salami effect: the artificial splitting up of projects which do not individually meet EIA thresholds but which do so on a cumulative basis.

There are roughly 30 probes for gas extraction within the area of the Marktgemeinde Straßwalchen. The ECJ does not take the final decision as to whether an EIA therefore had to be carried out, for that is for the national court to be decided, however it is quite likely that the cumulative effect of these 30 probes does lead to a requirement for EIA (which will have to look beyond municipal borders) once it started being clear that the area concerned is a hotbed for such exploratory drillings.

Geert.

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Habitat Directive: ECJ rejects ‘mitigation measures’ in Briels and forces infrastructure works into the compensation procedure.

The widening of the A2 motorway towards Eindhoven, impacted on the Natura 2000 site Vlijmens Ven, Moerputten & Bossche Broek (‘the Natura 2000 site’). That site was designated by the Netherlands authorities as an SAC for, in particular, the natural habitat type molinia meadows, which is a non-priority habitat type.  The Minister provided for a certain number of measures aimed at lessening the environmental impact of the A2 motorway project.

Assessment concluded that the A2 motorway project would have negative implications for the existing area comprising the habitat type molinia meadows. The assessment also stated that sustainable conservation and development of the molinia meadows be achieved if the hydrological system was completed.  In that regard the A2 motorway project provides for improvements to the hydrological situation in Vlijmens Ven, which will allow the molinia meadows to expand on the site. The Minister states that this will allow for the development of a larger area of molinia meadows of higher quality, thereby ensuring that the conservation objectives for this habitat type are maintained through the creation of new molinia meadows.

Briels and Others brought an action against the two ministerial orders before the referring court. They take the view that the Minister could not lawfully adopt the orders for the A2 motorway project, given the negative implications of the widening of the A2 motorway for the Natura 2000 site in question. They argue that the development of new molinia meadows on the site, as provided for by the ministerial orders at issue in the main proceedings, could not be taken into account in the determination of whether the site’s integrity was affected. They submit that such a measure cannot be categorised as a ‘mitigating measure’, a concept which is, moreover, absent from the Habitats Directive.

The Netherlands Raad van State suggested that the criteria for determining whether the integrity of the site concerned is affected are not to be found either in the Habitats Directive or the Court’s case-law, whence the question ‘whether the expression “will not adversely affect the integrity of the site” in Article 6(3) of [the Habitats Directive] to be interpreted in such a way that, where the project affects the area of a protected natural habitat type within [a Natura 2000 site], the integrity of the site is not adversely affected if in the framework of the project an area of that natural habitat type of equal or greater size [to the existing area] is created within that site?’ and ‘[If not], is the creation of a new area of a natural habitat type then to be regarded in that case as a “compensatory measure” within the meaning of Article 6(4) of the [Habitats Directive]?

The Court held (at 28) that the application of the precautionary principle in the context of the implementation of Article 6(3) of the Habitats Directive requires the competent national authority to assess the implications of the project for the Natura 2000 site concerned in view of the site’s conservation objectives and taking into account the protective measures forming part of that project aimed at avoiding or reducing any direct adverse effects for the site, in order to ensure that it does not adversely affect the integrity of the site.

! However (at 29), protective measures provided for in a project which are aimed at compensating for the negative effects of the project on a Natura 2000 site cannot be taken into account in the assessment of the implications of the project provided for in Article 6(3).

(As a supporting argument (at 32), the Court suggested that as a rule, any positive effects of a future creation of a new habitat which is aimed at compensating for the loss of area and quality of that same habitat type on a protected site, even where the new area will be bigger and of higher quality, are highly difficult to forecast with any degree of certainty and, in any event, will be visible only several years into the future. Consequently, they cannot be taken into account at the procedural stage provided for in Article 6(3) of the Habitats Directive).

Authorisation for the project therefore needs to be given in accordance with the procedure for compensation measures, provided for in Article 6(4). (Which does not make the project impossible. It just makes the outcome less certain and at the least more lengthy).

Many developers (and authorities with them) had hoped that a different answer of the ECJ would have had the potential to reduce the amount of negative appropriate assessments.  Quod non.

Geert.

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‘Minimum principles’ for shale gas regulation in the EU are a shot across the bow.

Over at the FROG Leonie Reins and myself report on the minimum principles which the European Commission have adopted for shale gas regulation. A recommendation only – not a proposal for Directive or Regulation. However there are plenty of references to what some in the industry see as stifling measures, such as baseline reporting and EIA.

The recommendation does not provide new munition for either proponents or opponents of the activity. It remains to be seen how Member States implement these recommendations in practice (they are to report by end 2014) and whether such minimum principles are enough to regulate an activity which is associated with so many uncertainties and which faces public opposition and political debate in nearly all Member States. A strict interpretation of the precautionary principle would certainly ask for “more”; but “more” might come in the future: the Commission is buying time with these minimum principles, having the European elections in spring 2014 in mind.

Geert, Leonie.

 

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Supreme Court goes Jules Verne and crosses the HS2 Bridge at high speed. Aarhus, SEA, EIA and supremacy of EU law all fail to make an impact.

In Chapter XXVIII of Jules Verne’s Around the world in Eighty Days, the train driver, egged on by enthusiastic US passengers and despite objections by Passepartout, reverses his train to cross a wobbly bridge (successfully) at high speed. With all passengers on board. It is a favourite chapter of mine and one which comes in handily in risk management classes.

In HS2 Action Alliance v Secretary of State for Transport, the United Kingdom Supreme Court took inspiration from Chapter XXVIII in dismissing all arguments based on the Aarhus Convention, the EIA Directive, the SEA Directive, and supremacy of EU law. These arguments were raised against the UK Government’s  ‘Command paper’, “High Speed Rail: Investing in Britain’s Future – Decisions and Next Steps” . The command papers sets in motion the reality of the development of the HSs high speed rail link between the South of England, the north and Scotland.

Lord Carnwath summarised the legal issues as follows (at 15):

i) SEA whether the DNS in the circumstances of HS2 is a “plan or programme” which “sets the framework for development consent” and was “required by administrative provisions” within the meaning of articles 2-3 of Directive 2001/42/EC (“the SEA Directive”).

ii) Aarhus whether if the interpretation of the majority in the Court of Appeal is correct, article 3(2)(a) of the SEA Directive is inconsistent with article 7 of the Aarhus Convention, and if so with what consequences.

iii) EIA/Hybrid Bill whether the Hybrid Bill procedure as proposed meets the requirements of Directive 2011/92/EU (“the EIA Directive”), taking account in particular that (a) issues of principle will be excluded from the Select Committee stage, and (b) the debate on the Bill at Second and Third Reading will be subject to a Government whip.

iv) Timing whether the court should intervene at this stage, or whether the court should wait until the Parliamentary process is completed;

v) CJEU reference whether any of the above questions raise uncertain issues of European law on which a reference should be made to the European court.

David Hart QC superbly summarises the Court’s findings and much of its reasoning over at the Human Rights blog and I am happy to refer my readers to him to get, well, up to speed on the judgment. I should simply like to point out that the Court’s boldness lies not so much in the merits of its decision, rather in the more or less belligerent wording and indeed telling off aimed at the Court of Justice.

With respect to Strategic Environmental Assessment – SEA [aimed at ensuring that environmental impacts are identified upstream, by ensuring that programs and plans which will lead to EIA-bound projects, are vetted themselves], a command paper formally does not set anything in stone about the ensuing (or not) development of the project which it will lead to. Much can still change and Members of Parliament have every right and prerogative to have the project amended or indeed scrapped altogether. However, clearly this is a project the realisation of which the government will want to ensure. It is in my view not merely ‘policy’, but a proper plan. Whence in reality this is exactly the kind of program which the SEA Directive had in mind when pressing for impact assessment upstream. Like the train carrying Passepartout et al, the adoption of this Command Paper has set in motion developments which will be all but impossible to stop. With one step following logically from the other, the intentions addressed in the Command Paper display a high degree therefore of fait accompli. The intent and purpose of the SEA Directive in my view does require its application in casu. I appreciate however that intent and purpose as interpretative tool is met lukewarmly by the Supreme Court. (I grant moreover that the Supreme Court does justifiably criticise some of the ECJ’s case-law on the EIA Directive, where very clear provisions nevertheless were altered in their meaning by reference to intent and purpose. The ‘claris’ in ‘in claris non fit interpretatio’ clearly lies in the eye of the beholder).

Of particular EU institutional interest is the Supreme Court’s reference to the Bill of Rights (at 206), Parliamentary Sovereignty, and the 2013 Bundesverfassungsgericht’s judgment on  the Counter-Terrorism Database Act. (Translated by the SC in relevant part as as part of a co-operative relationship, a decision of the Court of Justice should not be read by a national court in a way that places in question the identity of the national constitutional order). The SC is right in pointing out the difficulty under the doctrine of separation of powers, of courts second-guessing not the way in which data were put before parliament, but rather how members of that parliament subsequently interpret and apply those data. More generally, though, in suggesting, when criticising the ECJ judgments on that role of the courts, to restrain the ECJ in its interpretative space, the Supreme Court inevitably joins the queue of national supreme courts which are jittery about the positioning of the ECJ (and the ECtHR) on their turf.

This judgment is of very high relevance both for EIA and SEA, and for EU Institutional law. No doubt much more to be chewed on.

Geert.

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Introducing the Frog. A blog on the law of fracking.

Leonie Reins and myself have launched the Frog – a Fracking Blog. A blog on all thing fracking. No more to add than to encourage you to have a peek.

Geert.

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Aarhus and costs recovery. The impact of the EIA Directive and the Convention post consent in Alyson Austin

Reminiscent of an earlier posting on costs, the High Court recently had to consider the impact of the EIA Directive on cost orders. Mrs Austin lives close to an opencast mining and reclamation site in Wales. She complains of noise from heavy machinery and dust, affecting her home and preventing her family from sleeping. Planning consent had been granted in 2005.  Mrs Austin’s current action is based on private nuisance proceedings, based inter alia on the allegation that some of the conditions attached to the consent have not been complied with. The claim therefore is related to post-EIA compliance and the order sought by Mrs Austin is one to limit her costs.

Milwyn Jarman QC held – upon assist by James Pereira and Jack Connah) – that direct applicability of the Aarhus Convention in the UK is limited to those parts which have been incorporated in the EU’s EIA Directive  [‘otherwise, it remains a matter to be taken into account (…) in resolving ambiguities or in exercising discretions’ – a narrow view perhaps, albeit supported by UK precedent, on the impact of the Convention in the UK’s legal order] and that the Directive itself, as far as its impact on costs is concerned, sees upon judicial review proceedings in the process of EIA-based consent only, not an action in private nuisance post such consent.

Leave to appeal was granted and shall be heard end of June. The Aarhus Committee itself is also considering the issue and will proceed with findings in 2014.

This issue has exercised various courts and officials in the UK for some time. The 2014 developments are eagerly awaited.

Geert.

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