Environment: Commission takes Spain to Court over non-compliant landfills and high-speed rail link

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The European Commission is taking Spain to Court for two (unrelated) breaches of environment legislation. The first concerns poor waste management: despite earlier warnings from the Commission, numerous Spanish landfills are still operating in breach of EU landfill legislation. The second case contains a planned rail link between Seville and Almeria, for which no adequate environmental impact assessment was carried out. In an effort to urge Spain to rectify these matters, the Commission is taking Spain to the EU Court of Justice, on the recommendation of Environment Commissioner Janez Potočnik.

The Landfill Directive puts in place standards for landfills to prevent adverse effects on human health, water, soil and air. Under the Directive, operations at landfill sites that were in operation in 2001 should have ceased by 16 July 2009 unless they complied with EU standards designed to ensure that they operate safely. According to the latest information available to the Commission, almost five years after the final deadline for closure, 28 non-compliant landfill sites in Spain have still not been closed, and 3 others still need to be brought up to the standards required. In an effort to bring about the closures and upgrading, the Commission has resorted to action before the EU Court of Justice.

The second Court case concerns a high-speed rail link still under construction that has had a serious impact on the "Campiñas de Sevilla", an area of high importance for birds, which is protected under Spanish and EU legislation. Despite long-standing scientific evidence regarding the significance of the site, Spain only granted the area protected status after a ruling from the EU Court of Justice, by which time the relevant section of the Seville-Almeria rail project had been authorised and construction work had begun. The delay meant that the environmental impact procedure conducted for the project did not take proper account of the protected nature of the site, nor of the species it hosts. It is now apparent that the project as presented ought not to have been approved, as it is causing the habitat to deteriorate and disturbing the protected birds, a situation that would deteriorate further should the high-speed rail link become operational. The Commission also believes that Spain has failed to adopt the necessary measures to remedy the damage caused, and is therefore taking the matter to the EU Court of Justice.

Background

Under EU law, only safe and controlled landfill activities should be carried out in Europe. The Landfill Directive lays down standards to protect human health and the environment from the negative effects caused by the collection, transport, storage, treatment and disposal of waste. It aims to prevent or reduce as far as possible negative effects of landfilling of waste over the whole life-cycle of landfill sites.

The Environmental Impact Assessment Directive has been in force since 1985 and applies to a wide range of clearly defined public and private projects. Its fundamental principle is to ensure that environmental implications of decisions are taken into account before decisions are finalised. Also relevant to this case is the Birds Directive, which obliges Member States to avoid causing habitat deterioration and disturbance to birds: Campiñas de Sevilla is internationally classified as an important bird area, and protected under the Birds Directive and under Spanish legislation as a Special Protection Area for birds; and the Habitats Directive, which obliges Member States to take appropriate steps to avoid the deterioration of natural habitats and the habitats of certain species, as well as avoiding disturbance of the species for which the areas were designated.

News Source : Environment: Commission takes Spain to Court over non-compliant landfills and high-speed rail link
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