Seeing as legacy pollution issues, essential use etc. have brought this very much in the news again, I thought I’ld flag an interview I had with the European Environment Agency magazine on the operationalisation of the polluter pays principle. That’s it. That’s the post.
EU environmental law, with Leonie Reins, 2017, Chapter II, 7.
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.
EU environmental law (with Leonie Reins), Edward Elgar, 2018.
In C-15/19 A.m.a. – Azienda Municipale Ambiente SpA v Consorzio Laziale Rifiuti, Kokott AG opined mid-January. Her opinion relies heavily on the specific provisions which the Landfill Directive 1999/31 includes for what one could effectively call legacy issues in waste management: how does one roll-out stricter requirements, including with respect to polluter pays, unto landfill sites that were already in existence?
I shall not repeat said provisions for the Advocate General does so extensively. Suffice to say that her reasoned roll-out of the polluter pays principle (she puts the onus on the landfill sites’ operators; principles of legal certainty do not allow to charge those having deposited the waste at the site retroactively to pay for longer aftercare) is based to a large degree on the window which the Directive foresaw for Member States to close down sites whom they did not think could be expected to meet the new Directive’s stricter obligations before its lenghthy implementation periods; and on the fact that the operators of these sites, unlike the depositors of waste, can be expected to be properly au fait with its aftercare requirements and hence also of the proper amount of charges to be invoiced to users of the site.
Another good example of EU environmental /waste law not quite being the environmental zealot which its critics often try to make of it.
European environmental law principles may not have practical legal force in and of themselves. They are transposed into secondary law. It is their (incorrect) application and interpretation in conjunction with secondary law, which gives rise to citizens and corporations calling upon the principles to support their individual position. Hence despite their trumpeted value as ‘principles’, in the law in practice, individual citizens or corporations need transposition of said principles in secondary law, to argue that such secondary law has infringed the principles.
A clear application of this reality, is the recent ECJ judgment in Case C-534/13, a case with an impossibly long series of applicants and defendants, which for ease of reference I have dubbed FIPA, Tws Automation and Ivan in title of current posting. (After the main protagonists).
The main issue that arose, was whether national (Italian) legislation under which no provision is made for the authorities to require owners of polluted land who have not contributed to that pollution to carry out preventive and remedial measures, and the sole obligation imposed concerns the reimbursement of the measures undertaken by those authorities, is compatible with the ‘polluter pays’ principle, the precautionary principle and the principles that preventive action should be taken and that environmental damage should be rectified at source as a matter of priority.
The ECJ emphasises the role of Directive 2004/35 in this context. Held that the Directive does not hold against such absence. And recalled in line with previous case-law, that the environmental principles of the Treaty ‘do no more than define the general environmental objectives of the European Union, since Article 192 TFEU confers on the European Parliament and the Council of the European Union, acting in accordance with the ordinary legislative procedure, responsibility for deciding what action is to be taken in order to attain those objectives. (…) Consequently, since Article 191(2) TFEU, which establishes the ‘polluter pays’ principle, is directed at action at EU level, that provision cannot be relied on as such by individuals in order to exclude the application of national legislation — such as that at issue in the main proceedings — in an area covered by environmental policy for which there is no EU legislation adopted on the basis of Article 192 TFEU that specifically covers the situation in question (…) Similarly, the competent environmental authorities cannot rely on Article 191(2) TFEU, in the absence of any national legal basis, for the purposes of imposing preventive and remedial measures.(…)’ (at 39-41)
A sobering conclusion, yet one solidly rooted in legal practice and institutional balance. Geert.