TPP "Maritsa Iztok 2" on the Ovcharitsa Dam is the largest coal-fired power plant in Bulgaria and on the Balkan Peninsula
Date: 14th March 2023
International Justice and Human Rights Researcher
Global Human Rights Defence
At the heart of the environmental crisis of the 21st century, in its judgment of 9 March 2023, the Court of the European Union has ruled in favour of the environment and human health.
In order to protect the environment, public health and promote the energy transition, the European Union has adopted several directives. Firstly, Directive 2008/50/EC of the European Parliament and the Council of 21 May 2008 on ambient air quality and cleaner air in Europe requires Member States to monitor ambient air quality and sets limit values for pollutant concentrations. Secondly, Directive 2010/75/EU on industrial emissions (integrated pollution prevention and control) commits European Union member states to control and reduce the impact of industrial emissions on the environment. It is on the interpretation of these two directives within the Bulgarian situation that the Court of Justice ruled at the beginning of March.
The reason for the case was the work permit that Maritza East 2 TPP received at the end of 2018 from the Bulgarian government. The Maritza East 2 TPP is the biggest innovative thermal power plant in the Republic of Bulgaria and on the Balkan Peninsula. According to the derogation, the coal plant’s operators were allowed to emit almost twice the amount of sulfur dioxide (SO2) permitted by European Union regulations. As a result of this government decision, there are significant negative consequences for air quality and the health of the inhabitants near the site.
Therefore, several Bulgarian environmental organisations (Greenpeace Bulgaria and Za Zemiata with support from ClientEarth) brought legal action against the Bulgarian government. This case, brought at the national level, has reached the Court of Justice of the European Union. By a decision of 1 June 2021, the Supreme Administrative Court of Bulgaria referred to the EU Court on this issue.
The Court’s decision of 9 March 2023 has significant value and attempts to ensure public health. The EU Court states that, in areas that are already significantly polluted, derogations cannot be granted to pollute above legal limits. It was held that public authorities are responsible for considering the cumulative effects of pollution on the population.
However, we can question the future effectiveness of this decision on the responsible behaviour of the Bulgarian government. Indeed, in an earlier judgment of 5 April 2017, the Court of Justice of the European Union has already condemned Bulgaria for non-compliance with the ambient air quality regulation. Unfortunately, this previous decision does not appear to have been sufficient to change Bulgarian environmental policy in a significant way.
Sources and further reading:
Judgment of the Court (Second Chamber), Case C-375/21, 9 March 2023: https://curia.europa.eu/juris/document/document.jsf?text=&docid=271070&pageIndex=0&doclang=EN&mode=req&dir=&occ=first&part=1&cid=1065938
Directive 2008/50/EC of the European Parliament and the Council of 21 May 2008: https://eur-lex.europa.eu/legal-content/EN/ALL/?uri=CELEX%3A32008L0050
Directive 2010/75/EU of the European Parliament and the Council of 24 November 2010 on industrial emissions: https://eurlex.europa.eu/legalcontent/EN/TXT/?uri=CELEX%3A32010L0075
Bulgarian Energy Holding, TPP Maritsa East 2 EAD:
ClientEarth, EU Court ruling “watershed moment” for coal-heavy regions, 9 March 2023:
Greenpeace Bulgaria, Victory! The Court of the European Union has ruled in favor of the environment and human health in case against the pollution from the TPP Maritsa East 2, 9 March 2022 :
Le Monde, La Bulgarie, premier Etat membre de l’UE à être condamné pour sa mauvaise qualité d’air, 6 avril 2017, Rémi BARROUX :