Biofuelwatch UK issues High Court legal challenge to Drax

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Campaign group Biofuelwatch UK has issued a High Court legal challenge to the decision to grant Drax consent to install carbon capture technology at the Selby biomass plant.
Biofuelwatch UK said Energy Secretary Claire Coutinho's decision to approve the development is unlawful because likely harmful environmental effects were not assessed or taken into account.
The group said this could apply to up to two of the four biomass units in the facility, and that this breaches the 2017 Infrastructure Planning (Environmental Impact Assessment) (EIA) Regulations.
As a Nationally Significant Infrastructure Project (NSIP), the Bioenergy with Carbon Capture and Storage (BECCS) needed the EIA regulations to be followed carefully before it could be given government go-ahead, according to the protest group.
In its application for judicial review, Biofuelwatch contends the Energy Secretary’s decision failed to comply with the EIA regulations in three ways:
Firstly, by zero-rating the carbon (CO2) emissions from biomass burning, i.e. treating it as producing no greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions, despite the "obvious and indisputable fact that the combustion of biomass releases huge quantities of GHG emissions".
Secondly, by treating the works to construct and operate transport and storage facilities for captured carbon as a separate project. Biofuelwatch said the Humber Low Carbon Pipelines Project to transfer the CO2 and store it in rock formations under the North Sea is essential for the Carbon Capture Usage and Storage (CCUS) to operate as a whole, and should have been treated as the same project for EIA purposes.
Thirdly, the campaign group claimed the impact of these errors on the decision was significant; they allowed the Energy Secretary to treat the project as resulting in a net reduction in emissions of 7,975,620 tCO2e per annum.
Katy Brown, bioenergy campaigner with Biofuelwatch UK, said: “The Energy Secretary’s decision to accept Drax’s claim that its BECCS scheme will result in a net reduction in emissions is extremely dangerous and irresponsible given we are at a tipping point in the climate crisis.
"Cutting down trees and shipping them around the world to be burnt in power stations can never be a climate solution. Drax is the single biggest carbon emitter in the UK.
"Its promise to capture and store this carbon uses a technology unproven with wood burning at this scale. Every large-scale coal and gas power plant equipped with Carbon Capture Storage has failed to meet its target for carbon capture performance. It is irrational to think that Carbon Capture Storage on a wood burning power plant can be more successful.
“Consenting to this madness means fossil fuel emissions will continue in the false expectation that they will be captured.
"Burning millions of tonnes of imported wood means continued devastation of the world’s forests with the associated impacts on animals, biodiversity and local communities.
"BECCS diverts money and attention from genuine climate solutions such as wind, solar and insulation which would reduce carbon emissions to the atmosphere in the timescale needed – this decade.”
Leigh Day solicitor Rowan Smith, who represents Biofuelwatch UK, said: “The government claims that it can ignore greenhouse gas emissions from the operation of Drax simply because an entirely separate regime says those emissions are reported in the country from where the biomass is imported.
"Our client’s arguments seek to expose that legal fiction. They also shine a light on whether the government has minimised the environmental impacts by treating the transport and storage of the captured carbon as a separate project. We hope the Court will agree that these arguments warrant a full hearing.”

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