The Georgian District Court has granted Association "Green Alternative", a Georgian NGO, the right to commence a legal action in connection with the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan pipeline. The NGO remains deeply concerned about the controversial environmental clearance granted by the Georgian government for the construction of the pipeline's Georgian section on November 30, 2002.
The legal action, originally filed on May 29 this year, will be brought against the Georgian Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources, the Georgian branch of the Baku-Tbilisi-Ceyhan Pipeline company, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and the Parliament Office of Georgia. As yet no official date for the court case has been set.
Green Alternative is seeking to bring to the court's attention the serious violations of Georgian law which accompanied the government's green light for the pipeline's construction.
It will be asserted that the statutory rights of Georgian citizens, which provide for proper access to information and meaningful participation in the decision-making process, as per article 37 of the Georgian constitution, the Aarhuus Convention and Georgian laws on the protection of the environment, have been violated.
Manana Kochladze, of Green Alternative, said, "The environmental permission was issued following huge pressure from the project sponsor, BTC Company. Georgian legislation, the state constitution as well as the Host Country Government Agreement's strictures on access to information have all been brushed aside."
At the time Georgian and international NGOs, as well as expert groups from various countries, expressed their dissatisfaction with the quality of the Environmental and Social Impact Assessment and public consultation processes.
Activists have long maintained that BP, the lead member of the international pipeline consortium, leaned on the Georgian government for a quick and favourable decision.
Kochladze explained, "The high level political pressure was the main reason behind the Ministry of Environment's failure to provide the information to the public before the decision was made".
These violations during the issuing of the environmental permission now threaten the Borjomi-Kharagauli National Park and the Borjomi mineral water industry.
In bringing this legal action, Green Alternative is seeking:
an acknowledgement of the invalidity of environmental permission # 0011, issued by the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources in November 30, 2002;
an undertaking from the Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources to re-open the environmental permission process, but this time with the proper public consultation procedures in place.
That the Georgian Ministry of Environment and Natural Resources is included in this case illustrates the problematic legal nature of the BTC pipeline. In a letter dated November 26, 2002, just prior to the granting of the permission to BTC Company, the Georgian Environment Minister, Nino Chkhobadze, complained to BP's Chief Executive Lord Browne that "BP representatives are asking the Georgian government to violate its own environmental legislation." Despite such protests she approved the Environmental Impact Assessment for the oil pipeline a few days later.
It is within this opaque legal context, mirrored elsewhere along the pipeline's route in Azerbaijan and Turkey, that the consortium is currently seeking public funding from the International Finance Corporation (part of the World Bank), the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development and international export credit agencies.