The Higher Court in Belgrade has ruled in favor of Renewables and Environmental Regulatory Institute (RERI) and ordered Serbia’s state-owned energy company, Public Electricity Company of Serbia (EPS), to reduce illegal levels of sulfur dioxide emissions from its thermal power plants because of their threat to human health and the environment.
“This is the first time that EPS’ activities have been successfully challenged in the courts. This case was about protecting people’s health, but also about making sure that those in charge of upholding environmental protection laws are held to account”, says lawyer and chairman of the RERI Board Jovan Rajić.
The lawsuit filed by RERI to the Higher Court in Belgrade is the first of its kind and is based on a law that was adopted almost 50 years ago. The judgment represents a legal precedent that significantly improves judicial practice in Serbia when it comes to the protection of public interest, the health of citizens and environmental protection.
The judgment of the Court was largely based on the expert analysis by professor doctor Dragana Jovanović, a well-respected pulmonologist. Her analysis showed that prolonged exposure to illegal levels of SO2 emissions can lead to a wide range of consequences for human health, such as difficulties breathing, and the development of long-term asthma and bronchitis. More serious health consequences include increased mortality from respiratory and cardiovascular diseases.
“This historic ruling finally recognizes Serbians’ rights to a healthy environment and protects people whose health has suffered for years from EPS’ disregard for the law”, says RERI’s Program Director Mirko Popović.“
We expect EPS to comply with the judgment and implement the necessary measures in order to reduce sulfur dioxide emissions to within the legal limits, so that Serbians can finally live and breathe in a healthy environment”, adds Popović.
As a party to the Energy Community Treaty, Serbia is legally obliged to reduce emissions of SO2, nitrogen oxides (NOx) and particulate matter (PM) in accordance with the National Emission Reduction Plan (NERP) as of January 2018. However, during 2018 and 2019, just two out of ten of EPS’ thermal power plants emitted six times higher amounts of SO2 than allowed. These plants continued to emit illegal levels of SO2 in subsequent years.
The legal action, launched by RERI in 2021, follows several requests to the Ministry of Environmental Protection, demanding that it inspect illegal levels of sulfur dioxide (SO2) emitted from EPS’ thermal power plants. However, the Ministry determined that there was no legal ground to act.
In its ruling, the Court clearly expressed that lawsuit against EPS was the only remaining legal avenue to prevent further harm to people’s health and the environment.
Notes to editors:
The lawsuit was developed in partnership with the environmental legal organization ClientEarth.
Serbia’s obligation to apply NERP, and Public Electricity Company’s to comply with the annual emissions ceilings for sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and particulate matter, came into effect on 01 January 2018, in accordance with the decision of the Ministerial Council of the Energy Community on the implementation of the Large Combustion Plants Directive of the EU.
NERP covers large combustion plants (thermal power plants) that cannot comply with the emission limit values from the EU Directive on large combustion plants. Alternatively, Serbia shall apply NERP as an instrument to reduce harmful emissions.