This case first began in 2019 after the thermal power plant (TPP) Maritsa-Iztok 2 got its integrated permit for operation renewed indefinitely, allowing the plant to release mercury and sulphur oxides above set emissions limits. The Court of First Instance (Administrative Court Stara Zagora) dismissed the case, stating that there is no violation of the Aarhus Convention, even though the operations of the TPP in question have a transboundary effect. The Court also did not find any violations of the national Code of Administrative Procedure or the European Directives on ambient air quality and industrial emissions.
The Applicants appealed the judgment before the Administrative Court of Cassation (ACC). The ACC requested a preliminary ruling from the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU). The ACC found that there is discrepancy between the update of the plan for the management of ambient air quality in the municipality of Galabovo, developed for the pollutants: particulate matter (PM10) and sulphur dioxide (SO2) for 2019-2023 and the appealed decision of the Executive Director of the Environment Executive Agency. Namely, the reduced desulphurisation rates authorized by the Executive Director in the decision at issue are not consistent with the minimum desulphurisation rate of 98%. Furthermore, the authorized daily and hourly average rates of SO2 are systematically exceeded, which led, inter alia, to the adoption and update of the plan referred to above and gave rise to the bringing of an action for failure to fulfill obligations in Case C‑730/19, Commission v. Bulgaria. The ACC asked the CJEU three questions relating to the obligations of the competent authorities when considering a request for a derogation from the set emission limit values when reissuing integrated permits.
On March 9, 2023, the CJEU gave its judgment on the preliminary ruling. The CJEU found that a derogation from the set emission limit values may be granted only if less strict emission limit values do not cause 'significant pollution' and, in spite of that derogation, a 'high level of protection of the environment as a whole' could be achieved. Moreover, the pollution in excess of the air quality limit values for SO2 in the area of the TPP in question cannot be regarded as insignificant pollution, but could objectively be described as 'significant pollution'. Thus, a derogation from the set emission limit values could not be granted, if it is such as to contribute to exceeding air quality limit values set by Directive 2008/50 for SO2. Additionally, the competent authority empowered to grant such a derogation must also refrain from setting less strict emission limit values for pollutants originating from an installation where such a derogation would be contrary to the measures established in the air quality plan adopted in the zone concerned.
This judgment comes in a moment when there is talk in Bulgaria of renegotiating the Recovery Plan, which originally envisioned a 40% reduction in thermal power plant emissions and the introduction of more energy from renewable sources. Even though the judgment considers sulfur emissions, its principles could be very well be applied to other pollutants that originate from thermal power plants like Maritsa-Iztok 2.
After the CJEU judgment on the preliminary ruling, the case returned to the Bulgarian ACC, which must decide the case on its merits.
No case documents are available.