Trials start in Italy over the controversial Trans Adriatic Pipeline

This article is adapted from an article in Italian published on Re:Common’s website

On Friday the 11th of September, two trials will start in Lecce. These trials concern on one hand the local opponents to the controversial Trans Adriatic Pipeline (TAP) and on the other hand the company promoting the project.

In one of the trials stands the Swiss-based company TAP AG – which is promoting one of the largest, climate-damaging energy projects under construction in the European Union – together with its managers in charge of  the construction works will be accused of causing environmental disasters. In the other trial, ninety people who have made a peaceful resistance to stop the construction of the pipeline, if found guilty, could have to pay fines of up to 240 000 Euros and legal fees of up to 70 000 Euros.

The trial on environmental disaster: the accusations and the accused

The summons, issued on 18 December 2019 and signed by the public prosecutor Valeria Farina Valaori, mentions eighteen managers of both the Trans Adriatic Pipeline company and various companies contracted for executing the works.The Managing Director of TAP AG, Luca Schieppati, defended by the lawyer Elisabetta de Michelis, is among the defendants as the person representing the company in Italy. The company will be defended by lawyers Paola Severino (former Italian Minister of Justice and vice president of the LUISS Guido Carli University of Rome) and Francesco Paolo Sisto.

Also among the defendants are the Country manager of TAP AG Michele Mario Elia, the project manager for Italy Gabriele Paolo Lanza (also an employee of the Snam group, a publicly owned company that is a 20% shareholder of Tap AG) and Marco Paoluzzi from the company Technip Italy in charge of the works.

The offenses on which the trial will focus on include environmental crimes committed between November 2016 and July 2019. These crimes are related to the construction of the project and the removal of olive trees in the locality of “Le Paesane” where the prosecutor seized the construction site in April 2018 and then released it once the investigation was closed in 2019. According to the prosecutor, the preparatory work and the construction of the receiving terminal, the micro-tunnel and the placement of the pipes would have taken place in the absence of valid permits. The environmental impact assessment (EIA) was produced in 2014 and the single authorization issued in 2015 would not be valid as they would not have taken into account the cumulative impacts of the project. The public prosecutor also believes that the various authorizations during the progress of the works, granted by the Ministry of Economic Development, in relation to the removal of olive trees in the same area of “Le Paesane” are not valid. This locality in the town of Melendugno hit the top of the news  for the violent repression against the popular protest denouncing the uprooting of these trees.

Other offenses include the absence of waterproofing of various construction sites, as well as the discharge of industrial wastewater which would have led to the contamination of the aquifer with dangerous substances, including hexavalent chromium.

It should be remembered that the public prosecutor of Lecce had already opened and then closed a file on the TAP case following numerous reports of abuses received by its offices since 2014 (when the Ministry of the Environment approved the Environmental Impact Assessment despite a significant number of negative comments). In 2018, the prosecutor decided to reopen the investigations, following a complaint by the municipality of Melendugno in the person of its mayor, Marco Potì, together with seven citizens affected by the impacts of the pipeline’s construction. The complaint also indicates the close link between the TAP and the 50-kilometer long gas pipeline that Snam is building to connect the TAP to the gas distribution network (known as “Tap Interconnector” and considered a Project of Common Interest by the European Commission). According to the document, the two projects would not make sense if considered separately and their cumulative impacts should be calculated in the Environmental Impact Assessment.

The work of the prosecutor’s office lasted almost two years and examined the numerous complaints presented not only by the mayors of local municipalities but also by citizens and local associations part of the No Tap Movement. These relate on one hand to the implementation of the Seveso directive on the risk of major accidents from industrial plants, and on the other hand to the environmental damage resulting from the construction of the pipeline. A few months after the closure of the investigation, in December 2019 the Lecce prosecutor published the summons and announced the start of the trial foreseen for April 2020.

The date of the first hearing was then postponed to 11 September 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Re:Common denounced the harmful environmental impacts and hidden interests behind the TAP as early as 2013 when it participated in a hearing at the Foreign Affairs Committee of the Italian Parliament where the intergovernmental agreement between Italy and other transit countries of the TAP pipeline was discussed. Since then, it has led an international campaign in support of the No Tap Movement, together with numerous NGOs and activists, including Counter Balance, to prevent public and private funding of the project and to denounce the responsibilities of European institutions backing the pipeline. Indeed, the European Commission has been a key promoter of the project, and TAP already received a 1.5 billion Euros loan from the European Investment Bank (EIB), the financial arm of the European Union.

Re:Common will be present at the first hearing of the trial that sees the company Tap AG among the defendants with a direct twitter live feed that you can follow from the @Recommon account.

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