A coalition of environmental groups announced Tuesday that they are suing the European Union’s executive, the European Commission, alleging that it has refused to hand over documents on the environmental impact of plant-based biofuels. The EU is committed to drawing 10 per cent of its energy needs from renewable sources, including biofuels, by 2020. But environmental groups fear that the policy will do more harm than good by encouraging farmers in developing countries to cut down rain forests so they have more land to farm.
According to environmental groups, the commission holds a considerable body of research into the environmental impact of biofuel production, but has refused to release the documents.
“The commission is withholding time-sensitive and critical environmental information necessary for meaningful public participation in biofuel policymaking,” the groups said in their submission to the European Court.
The coalition of environmental pressure groups asked the commission to make the documents available on October 15, invoking an EU rule which allows the public to access EU papers.
However, “following intense internal deliberations and multiple extensions, the commission refused to turn over the documents by the statutory deadline, 9 February 2010. Instead, it informed the coalition of their right to sue,” the groups said in a statement.
In a rare, although not unprecedented, move, the groups therefore decided to take the commission to the European Court in Luxembourg.
But a commission spokesman said that that move was “premature” from the EU executive’s point of view.
“We have not refused to grant access to the requested documents. We have already provided a large number of documents: there are 8,000 pages in question and we have provided a large proportion of those,” commission spokesman Mark Gray said.
“The commission is not stalling anything … When that first request came, there was no inventory, it was simply a catalogue of demands without a clear set of documents identified. We then did respond in time and ask for an extension, the applicant did not accept this,” he said.
It now falls to the court’s legal services to review the groups’ claim and, if necessary, set a date for a hearing.
The plaintiffs are legal pressure group Client Earth, transport policy group Transport & Environment, bird protection group Birdlife International, and a coalition of 140 grassroots organizations, the European Environmental Bureau.