New biofuels legal action shows ‘access to information’ rules are not working

The Commission is being taken to court for the third time over an alleged failure to release information regarding the environmental impact of biofuels. The latest action relates to information about voluntary certification schemes that could play a major part in determining which biofuels are judged to be sustainable. T&E says the lawsuit shows that the Commission is failing to comply with EU ‘access to information’ rules.

[mailchimp_signup][/mailchimp_signup]The lawsuit has been filed by the law NGO ClientEarth, at the initiative of three Brussels-based campaigning NGOs: FoEE, Fern and Corporate Europe Observatory. Last year the three asked for information on the Commission’s recognition of voluntary certification schemes used by certain biofuel manufacturers, which would help them comply with the sustainability criteria used to work out which biofuels can count under the EU renewable energy directive. The Commission’s refusal to release the information was challenged in December, and Brussels was given until 4 February to release certain information, but it has not responded.

This is the second time ClientEarth has taken legal action against the Commission over biofuels. Last year, working in coalition with T&E, the EEB and BirdLife Europe, it twice challenged the EC’s refusal to release information on indirect land-use change caused by biofuels production.

And it follows action initiated by FoEE in 2007, over the Commission’s failure to release information about discussions on carbon dioxide emissions from new cars held between the former enterprise commissioner Günter Verheugen and the German car maker Porsche. The NGOs eventually won access to the documents after favourable rulings from the EU ombudsman and the European Parliament’s petitions committee, but it took four years, and the threat of legal action, by which time the legislation under discussion had already come into effect. ‘This shows that access to information rules are not working,’ said T&E director Jos Dings. ‘Having access to certain information is essential to good decision-making, but if the Commission can ignore requests from the EU’s ombudsman and court, and simply delay until the matter concerned is no longer topical, then the legislation is not serving its purpose.’

The Commission is still working on its impact assessment that will determine how it views the problematic area of indirect land-use change. The assessment is due next month, but a Commission official speaking in late May was unable to confirm whether it would appear on time.

  • The Global Bio-energy Partnership, an initiative that enjoys support from governments and international organisations, says it has agreed on a set of voluntary sustainability indicators for the production of bio-energy. It says its agreement will help countries work out sustainability criteria so only the most environmentally beneficial biofuels will be produced and sold, but T&E has said the agreement is too weak because it does not take into account indirect land-use change.