PETROCHEMICALS GIANT INEOS has announced it is dropping its permit for the first stage of a planned plastics expansion in the Port of Antwerp, Belgium, following a court challenge launched last year by environmental law charity ClientEarth and 13 other NGOs.

The company has decided to pull its current permit for the clearance of woodland necessary for the expansion and prepare a new permit application.

This development is a major win for the lawyers and environmental groups who had taken action against Ineos’ ‘salami-slicing’ of the project into three separate permit applications. The groups won an injunction against ‘Project One’ in November, before submitting a full legal challenge against the Flemish authorities’ failure to assess the foreseen environmental impacts of the full project – a clear breach of EU and national laws.

It remains unclear whether Ineos’ future permit application will reflect the full environmental impacts of the project as the environmental groups have demanded it should.

ClientEarth lawyer Tatiana Luján said: “This project’s environmental impacts would be so far-reaching, we believe the authorities should not be able to authorise it. Beyond the clear local impacts of woodland destruction and plastic pellet leakage, we cannot forget that plastics are made from fossil fuels, and plants like this are a global climate issue.

“The magnitude of Project One’s impacts cannot be brushed under the carpet – or divided over several permits to make them look smaller. Winning permission step by step when each stage of the project is interlinked is an illegal approach. This permit was always inadequate and pulling it is the only legally correct course of action. Ineos must now go back to the drawing board.”

The decision comes following recent signs that Ineos may be backtracking on its plans for Project One. In January, Ineos announced it would indefinitely suspend plans for part of the expansion. Ineos reported this was due to market issues, with demand for propylene – a key ingredient of plastic – tanking. This sudden change of plans has already cost Ineos €118.5 million.

An additional concern may also be the increasing unprofitability of shale gas fracking in the US, a central element in the Ineos’ business plans, which has been under heavy pressure from climate protection legislation worldwide.

Mathieu Soete from Greenpeace Belgium said: “Ineos is increasingly on the back foot. Local protests against its plastics factory are surging, markets are losing interest, and its permit has been poked full of holes. We do not see how a new permit application could be successful, as on top of explaining its unjustifiable carbon and plastic pollution, it would also have to deal with the strengthened stance of the Flemish administration on nitrogen emissions.

“Instead of flogging a dead horse, Ineos should cut its losses and make way for a true transformation of the Antwerp harbour with respect for the climate, environment and workers’ rights.”

Koen Platevoet from Grootouders voor het Klimaat (Grandparents for the Climate) said: “As grandparents, we are worried about the impact this kind of project will have on our grandchildren’s future – its contribution to climate change risks making their lives harder.

“But we are also worried about what the project means for everyone living and working in the city today – it puts individual health and the environment in danger, but it also poses an immediate economic threat to citizens due to financial guarantees made by the Flemish government and several banks.

“That’s why we recently wrote to members of the Flemish Parliament, asking them to rethink this harmful project and for more transparency around its financial risk. Flemish taxpayers deserve to know how their money is being spent and how that contributes towards reaching Flanders’ and Belgium’s social and climate objectives.”

Ineos has said it plans to submit an amended environmental impact assessment in order to request a new permit from the Flemish authorities later this year. The project has already been delayed by over a year due to the environment groups’ legal action. Ineos’ decision to submit a new permit is expected to further delay Project One by at least two years.

Once published, the environmental groups will review the new permit and continue to take legal action where necessary to prevent Project One from causing irreversible damage to people and the planet.

* Source: ClientEarth