Environmentalists sue the EC

A coalition of environmental groups has filed a legal action against the European Commission over its refusal to release documents on the negative climate impacts of widespread biofuel use in the EU.

The lawsuit, brought by ClientEarth, Transport & Environment, the European Environmental Bureau, and BirdLife International, alleges several violations of European laws designed to promote transparency, democracy and legitimacy in EU policy-making.

’The public’s right to this information is a fundamental principle of European law. That the Commission should choose to deny our rights on such a critical issue as the science underpinning our climate policies is astounding,’ said Tim Grabiel, staff attorney at ClientEarth, the public-interest legal organisation representing the coalition.

The efforts to gain access to this information began in October 2009. Following intense internal deliberations and multiple extensions, the Commission refused to turn over the documents by the statutory deadline in February this year. Instead, it informed the coalition of their right to sue. In response, the coalition has taken the rare step of taking the issue to the General Court of the European Union.

At issue is the future regulation of biofuels in the European Union. Member states are required to use renewable sources to meet 10 per cent of their transport needs by 2020, which will be met in large part through the increased use of biofuels. A well-known consequence of biofuels production, however, is the conversion of forests and other natural areas into cropland – a phenomenon called indirect land-use change (ILUC) that produces significant greenhouse-gas emissions. The documents, the environmentalists claim, would reveal the extent of those emissions.

Nuša Urbancic, Transport & Environment, said: ’Current EU biofuels policy guarantees that Europe will use lots of biofuels, but it doesn’t guarantee reductions in greenhouse gas emissions; in fact it seems likely it will make things worse. The first step to fixing this broken policy must be full transparency about what the true impacts are. That’s why this legal action is so important.’

The Commission is currently withholding around 140 documents, according to its own figures.

The coalition’s application will be reviewed by the Registrar of the General Court of the European Union, and later served upon the Commission, after which it will have two months to respond. A hearing date has yet to be set.