Ireland Fined For Failure to Comply With EU Environmental Law

In two judgements the Court of Justice of the European Union has ruled that Ireland has to pay financial penalties for failure to comply with earlier Court judgments that established a breach of EU environmental law.

The first ruling relates to Ireland’s failure to properly regulate the installation and use of septic tanks (individual waste water treatment systems). Discharges from septic tanks, of which there are close to 500,000 inIreland, have contributed to micro-biological pollution of groundwater and nutrient pollution of surface waters. Human health is put at risk because pathogens can enter drinking water sources via septic tanks that are poorly designed, located or maintained.

The Court found that Ireland has not complied with an earlier ruling of 2009 (case C-188/08) and therefore imposed a penalty payment of €12,000 for each day of delay in adopting measures necessary to comply with the 2009 judgment, from the date on which judgment is delivered in the present case to the date of full compliance with the 2009 judgment. Furthermore, Ireland is ordered to pay a lump sum of €2,000,000.

The second judgement relates to Ireland’s failure to correctly transpose and apply EU legislation on environmental impact assessment. The Court found that the thresholds for undertaking an environmental impact assessment for certain types of projects, including the restructuring of rural landholdings and water management projects for irrigation or land drainage, were too high. They did not fully take sensitive countryside features into account. This led to loss of wetlands and other habitats without any environmental impact assessments ever being required.

The Court found thatIrelandhas implemented its earlier ruling of 2008 (C-66/06) and therefore the imposition of a penalty payment is unnecessary. However, the Court imposed a lump sum of €1,500,000.

Both cases were initially brought to the Court by the Commission on the basis of evidence of harm to human health and the environment resulting from significant shortcomings in national legislation. The second Court rulings were sought by the Commission because Ireland showed very slow progress in reforming their legislation to ensure compliance with the first judgments and EU environmental legislation.

These are the first judgments of this kind against Ireland. The judgments also remind the Member States of their duty to implement the judgments of the Court in a timely manner and that the failure to do so carries the risk of financial sanctions. This also illustrates that poor implementation of environmental law has costs. It is estimated that failure to implement environment legislation costs the EU economy around economy around €50 billion every year in health costs and direct costs to the environment.

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