October 4, 2018 / 2:22 PM / 18 days ago

Poland to ban bad coal to fight smog, but delay disappoints environmentalists

WARSAW (Reuters) - The Polish government said on Thursday that a new decree will banish the worst-quality coal from the market, improving air quality, but environmentalists said a two-year delay means the government is favoring the mining industry over public health.

FILE PHOTO: A heap of coal is seen at the Zeran Heat Power Plant in Warsaw, Poland November 4, 2017. REUTERS/Kacper Pempel/File Photo

The Energy Ministry has just approved long-awaited regulations that define the quality of coal that may be used by households and small companies and aim to ban the dirtiest coal to make the air cleaner.

“Thanks to these regulations, fuels which are unsuitable to be burnt by households will be eliminated from the retail market,” Deputy Energy Minister Grzegorz Tobiszowski said in a statement.

However, the ban on the poorest quality coal will only take effect from June 30, 2020, drawing criticism from environmentalists.

Activist group Polski Alarm Smogowy (PAS) criticized the regulations for allowing the two-year delay which the ministry says is needed for coal sellers and users to adapt to the ban.

“The legislation is good news which hardly makes us happy. This is one more time when the energy ministry has placed the interests of the mining sector above Polish citizens’ health,” PAS said in a statement.

Poland is heavily dependent on coal, with around 80 percent of its power production provided by coal-fired plant generation.

It aims to cut that to half by 2040, with renewables and nuclear providing much of the rest and gas-fired generation providing back-up.

Poland and Germany are jointly responsible for over half of the European Union’s carbon dioxide emissions from coal.

Cities in Poland, especially in the south, sometimes have denser smog than New Delhi or Beijing, mostly due to citizens burning low quality coal and rubbish to heat their houses.

Poland will host U.N. climate talks in the mining city of Katowice in December, where the implementation of a global pact to keep global warming in check will be worked out.

Under pressure from environmental groups, the Polish government announced a 100 billion zloty ($26.8 billion) “clean-air” program this year, which includes measures such as helping citizens to exchange old, polluting heaters for modern, cleaner ones.

But green campaigners said that the government’s actions have been inconsistent and blamed the energy ministry for blocking some anti-smog actions to protect the coal industry.

Reporting by Agnieszka Barteczko; Editing by Adrian Croft

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