EU regulators take Poland to court for breach of environment law

Environmental activists protest in defence of Europe's last ancient forest, the Bialowieza Primeval Forest, in Warsaw, Poland February 14, 2016. REUTERS/Dawid Zuchowicz/Agencja Gazeta/file

LONDON (Reuters) - The European Commission is taking Poland to the European Court of Justice in Luxembourg for breaking EU environment law when exploring for shale gas, the EU executive said on Thursday.

Poland’s law only requires impact assessments for drilling to a depth of more than 5,000 meters.

But the Commission says that clashes with EU legal requirements to assess the risks to water, air quality and biodiversity of much shallower drilling (more than 1,000 meters) in the shale and mining sector.

“The high threshold introduced under Polish law does not take into account all relevant criteria and standards,” the Commission said in a statement.

Environment campaigners and lawyers welcomed the announcement and said it signaled the Commission’s determination to act more widely to protect the environment in Poland.

Aside from shale gas and mining, campaigners in Poland are especially concerned about the environmental impact of government plans to increase logging in the Bialowieza Forest, a UNESCO World Heritage site. The Commission said it is looking into those plans.

“The Commission’s decision is very important in the context of our complaint to the EC about illegal logging in Bialowieza Forest,” ClientEarth lawyer Agata Szafraniuk said.

“It shows how seriously the Commission treats any breach of the legal obligation to carry out a proper environmental impact assessment.”

The European Court of Justice has to consider the Commission’s case and if it agrees with it, Poland could face a fine for each day it is in breach of EU law.

Reporting by Barbara Lewis; editing by Susan Thomas