June 20, 2013 / 2:58 PM / 4 years ago

EU sends Italy back to court over Naples trash epidemic

BRUSSELS, June 20 (Reuters) - The European Commission is referring Italy back to court for failing to deal once and for all with waste handling problems that have left Naples and its wider region blighted by piles of stinking rubbish.

More than 6 million tonnes of garbage are heaped at various sites across the Campania region that includes Naples, which is Italy's third-largest city but produces more rubbish than the capital Rome.

Poor trash handling has been a problem there for years, stemming from disputes between local authorities and organized crime groups that make money by collecting rubbish then dumping it illegally instead of processing it.

The European Court of Justice ruled in 2010 that Italy had failed to comply with EU waste legislation that mandates member states to get rid of garbage in a way that does not harm the environment or the health of citizens.

Italy's government offered at the time to open new urban waste management plants and landfills by 2016.

But on Thursday the Commission, the European Union's executive arm, said that plan was no longer viable.

"We cannot say with confidence that the plan will be realized before 2016 and therefore we decided to take the case back to court," said Monica Westeren, a spokeswoman for Enviroment Commissioner Janez Potocnik.

The Commission proposed fining Italian authorities 28,090 euros per day from the time of the 2010 ruling until the new judgment is complied with - a total of 34 million euros to date.

After the ruling, an additional 256,000 euros per day will be added to the bill until the region meets its obligations.

A judgment can be expected in about a year, Westeren said.

The piles of garbage which marked the crisis in previous years have largely disappeared from the streets of central Naples but illegal rubbish dumps continue to proliferate in outlying areas and in the nearby countryside.

Italian authorities have met frequently with EU officials and have tried exporting some of the waste, but the construction of new incinerators and other facilities has been delayed repeatedly. (Reporting By Anders Melin in Brussels; additional reporting by Amalia De Simone in Naples; editing by Tom Pfeiffer)

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