On 2nd May, the Bulgarian Supreme Administrative Court finally decided against the controversial RDF-fueled 180 000 Euro-incineration plant project in the center of Sofia. This decision overturns the 2015 permission granted by the Director of the Regional Environmental and Water Inspectorate, which endorsed Sofia Municipality’s investment plan. Culminating after a lengthy legal battle, this ruling underscores serious deficiencies in public participation and health risk assessment by the authorities.

Initiated nearly a decade ago, the incinerator faced opposition from Environmental Association Za Zemiata, citing significant health risks. The concerns raised were supported by other local and European NGOs, such as CEE Bankwatch Network and Zero Waste Europe. The Administrative Court, echoing concerns raised by citizens and environmentalists, highlighted shortcomings in the air quality impact analysis, failing to account for Sofia’s already high pollution levels. Moreover, citizens expressed concerns that alternative solutions could offer better results in reducing air pollution if properly evaluated.

The European Commission and the European Investment Bank, both approved preliminary funding for the project, disregarding repeated local objections for over a decade. The incinerator was expected to consume up to 30 percent of EU cohesion policy funding for waste management in Bulgaria for the period 2014 to 2020. Earlier last year, the Sofia Municipal Council decided to return EU funding allocated for the project due to legal, administrative, and technical delays, failing to meet the 2023 completion deadline. The court decision reiterates authorities’ failure to ensure adequate public participation and health risk assessment, alongside critiquing inadequate risk evaluations for emissions, including highly carcinogenic substances, and toxic ash production.

Furthermore, the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was faulted for relying on unreliable data for waste estimation which exact details continue to be kept secret from the community. Additionally, the court criticised the inadequate risk assessment of the emissions of highly carcinogenic dioxins and furans, as well as the large amounts of toxic ash the plant would produce.

The planned incinerator’s capacity was set to exceed current RDF production in Sofia by threefold, raising environmental and safety concerns. Unfortunately, the persistence of the municipality to defend this project diverts attention and funding from urgently needed waste management actions such as separate collection and biowaste composting, mandated across the EU from the end of 2023.

This court decision came in the wake of failed attempts for legislative changes at the National Parliament to water down the Environmental protection act and the Environmental Impact Assessment procedures.  

The Administrative court decision confirmed by the Supreme Administrative court translated in English.