Supreme Court annuls building permit for new oil shale processing plant

Enefit280 plant under construction in Auvere.
Enefit280 plant under construction in Auvere. Source: Rene Kundla/ERR

Due to errors in the environmental impact assessment, the Supreme Court revoked the building permit granted to Enefit Power AS for the construction of a new facility, Enefit280 plant, to produce oil from oil shale.

On November 18, 2019, Enefit Power AS (then Enefit Energiatootmine AS) submitted an application to the Narva-Jõesuu City Government for a building permit for the construction of an oil shale plant in the village of Auvere, Ida-Viru County, which was granted by the City Government on March 27, 2020. The plant will convert shale oil rock into oil shale, with long-term intentions to chemically process plastic waste and tire residues that will no longer be permitted to be incinerated in the future.

On April 26, 2020, the NGO Loodusvõlu, an environmental organization representing young citizens, filed an appeal with the Administrative Court of Tartu to annul the construction permit, arguing that the construction permit violates international climate agreements and that the impact of the construction permit has not been properly assessed.

The environmental organization's appeal was rejected by both the Tartu Administrative Court and the Tartu Circuit Court. Wednesday, the Supreme Court reversed the lower courts' decisions and issued a new ruling in the case, upholding the environmental organization's appeal and voiding the contested building permit.

According to the Supreme Court, not every important environmental impact was identified for the purpose of granting the permit. "The main oversight was the failure to evaluate the impact on Puhatu, a Natura bird site. There were also errors in the evaluation of climate sensitivity and the effect of phenol water management. However, the climate impact of the plant was fully evaluated prior to granting the construction permit," the court stated in a press release.

Withdrawal of a building permit means that the plant construction cannot go ahead. Due to the ongoing construction of the factory and the uncertain future of the building under construction, the Supreme Court has granted a two-month exception period during which only those works expressly required to ensure the safety and preservation of the building under construction may be performed. The municipality must proceed with the building permit application process and rectify errors in the environmental impact assessment.

In addition, the Supreme Court emphasized that the legislature must decide on the constitutional obligation to limit greenhouse gas emissions based on the best available scientific information and Estonia's international obligations. According to the Paris Climate Agreement and scientific evidence, the global average temperature increase must be kept below two degrees, preferably within 1.5 degrees of pre-industrial levels.

The Court noted that the Estonian Constitution requires a proportionate contribution to this goal. "To attain climate neutrality, a practical and legally enforceable phased and sectoral emission allocation strategy must be established quickly. In the absence of such a plan, individuals will face substantial uncertainty about the acceptability of various activities in the coming years," the court noted.


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Editor: Aleksander Krjukov, Kristina Kersa

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