Supreme Court overrules attempt to halt oil shale plant construction

The Supreme Court in Tartu.
The Supreme Court in Tartu. Source: Silver Gutmann/riigikohus

The Supreme Court has rejected an appeal for preliminary legal protection concerning an under-development shale oil-fired power station in eastern Estonia. The latest appeal is one of several filed by an environmental group, which have so far delayed work on the plant, though the court does not consider the grounds on which legal protection was based to be without merit.

The court rejected the latest application for preliminary legal protection filed by environmental NGO Loodusvõlu in respect of the planned Enefit280 Auvere plant, pending final settlement of legal disputes.

This was the fourth request in a row for preliminary legal protection which court's administrative panel rejected, a spokesperson said Thursday.

The Tartu-based court stated that the need for preliminary legal protection is not currently an overwhelming one, considering all the important factors. 

On the one hand, the court said, avoiding putting the plant into operation if serious consequences occur is viable. 

On the other, the risk of sufficiently serious consequences is not overwhelmingly probable, based on the data presented in the complaint, the court says.

Additionally, commissioning the plant may render it difficult to achieve EU climate goals as adopted by the Estonian state, though there is a great deal of factual and legal ambiguity in this matter, the court said.

Legally speaking, the court found, it is not clear whether emissions associated with the plant would give local government sufficient reason to refuse building permit, the court found, while Loodusvõlu's case is weakened by a strategic decision to build the factory at detailed planning stage.

Ambiguity on costs compensated for in the Estonian carbon budget by reducing CO2 emissions or by increasing emission sequestration elsewhere also exist, while suspending the building contract would not be in public interest and would cause scheduling and budgetary issues at the current, advanced stage of construction.

Nonetheless, the Supreme Court says it does not consider Loodusvõlu's application to be without merit, given it has raised serious issues with the shortcomings of the environmental impact assessment.

The panel, however, agreed with the administrative and district court's conclusion that the main purpose of the complaint is to avoid environmental impacts that would accompany the start of oil production, not the construction of the plant.

The plant's construction was suspended from May to July of last year, following Loodusvõlu's several requests for preliminary legal protection.

Earlier this year the second-tier Tartu District Court had previously declined to uphold MTÜ Loodusvõlu's complaint on a permit issued by the city government in Narva-Jõesuu to erect the plant, meaning the court left in place a decision by the first-tier Tartu Administrative Court, from June 4 last year. 

The €286 million oil shale plant is scheduled to go online in 2024.

MTÜ Loodusvõlu is the NGO which was behind the "Fridays for Climate Change" protests some years ago.

Enefit Power is a subsidiary of Eesti Energia.


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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