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EUROPE: European Activists Sue Over Biofuels Studies

by James KanterNY Times
March 10th, 2010

Environmental lawyers and activists on Monday sued the European Commission for failing to release studies investigating the impact of biofuels on the environment.  Activists claim in a suit filed Monday that European policy was “inventing an artificial market” for biofuels.

European policy was “inventing an artificial market worth billions” and there was a “responsibility to ensure its environmental objectives are achieved,” the activists wrote in an application to the second highest tribunal in the European Union, the General Court, at the European Court of Justice.

The groups – ClientEarth, Transport & Environment, European Environmental Bureau, and BirdLife International – said in their complaint that the commission was “withholding time-sensitive and critical environmental information necessary for meaningful public participation in biofuel policy-making.”

The court, which is based in Luxembourg, will now review the filing for completeness for several days before serving the complaint on the commission, according to Tim Grabiel, a staff attorney at ClientEarth, a nonprofit law firm with offices in London, Paris and Brussels.

The European Commission studies in question are intended to determine the volume of emissions created when forest or land is cleared to replace food production lost to biofuel crops. Converting land can release large amounts of greenhouse gases when vegetation is cleared. Plowing also exposes carbon stored in the soil to the air. In the lumbering jargon of emissions experts, these effects are known as “indirect land use changes.”

The commission has already released some of the studies.

Mark Gray, a spokesman for the European Commission, said those documents ran to 8,000 pages and he said the commission still was assessing whether to release the remainder.

The court action was “premature as we have not refused to grant access to the requested documents,” said Mr. Gray. Commission officials were “carrying out a concrete and individual assessment of the requested documents,” he said, adding that a policy officer at Transport & Environment who first asked for the documents “cannot sustain in good faith that we rejected her request.”

But according to the application filed by the activists, the commission was “setting a dangerous precedent” by not releasing all of the studies. The commission could “delay the release of documents until after a policy decision has been made, striking at the heart of democracy,” the activists contended.

The commission already has been scolded by the European Ombudsman for declining release of documents sought by another environmental group, Friends of the Earth Europe, that relate to the commission’s policies on carbon dioxide emissions from cars.

That case concerns three letters sent to the former vice president of the commission, Guenther Verheughen, by the sports car manufacturer Porsche.

“The Commission’s uncooperative attitude in this case is detrimental to the public image of the E.U.,” the ombudsman, P. Nikiforos Diamandouros, said in a report he issued last week.

The ombudsman investigates complaints about maladministration in European Union institutions and bodies.

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