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Government attempts to mitigate negative impact of coal usage

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Violations of environmental standards will be met with taxes and tight penalties, government says

Smoke rises from a chimney at a coal chemical factory.  (AFP File Photo)

Smoke rises from a chimney at a coal chemical factory.
(AFP File Photo)

After approving the use of coal as an energy source, the interim government said Thursday it would impose tax on coal usage and work on amending laws to tighten penalties on violating environmental standards and regulations.

The government approved using coal as a part of the country’s energy system on Wednesday to address the energy shortage, stipulating the endorsement of the Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA), which works under the Ministry of Environmental Affairs and measures the possible impacts of these projects on the environment.

Coal is considered the most polluting of all fossil fuels, and burning coal is a main source of carbon dioxide emissions in the world, according to Greenpeace, a non-governmental international environmental organisation.

The government said it plans to apply the “latest technologies” to reduce harmful emissions to the lowest possible levels.

But Habiba Ramadan, a researcher at the Egyptian Centre for Social and Economic Studies, said technologies that control harmful emissions are not yet available globally.

“Residents of the Helwan and Tora areas are already suffering from pollutants from cement factories there,” Ramadan said, adding that only 7 cement factories are applying the environmental standards and regulations.

“The application of the coal system requires measures such as restructuring maritime ports to be able to host coal shipments and defining the means of suitable transportation to transfer coal to factories and plants,” she said.

Ramadan, who believes the government should be moving toward solar, wind, and waste energies, argued that “the decision protects businessmen not the normal Egyptian citizens.”

Because Egypt will import coal, she said, the country will now be “dependent” and “lose control over its energy consumption”.

The government began discussing coal as an energy alternative in October after cement factories complained that a low supply of natural gas was interfering with production.

In order to address the shortage, the Ministry of Petroleum allowed private sector companies and factories to “directly” import natural gas; however, they refrained from doing, according to head of the Egyptian Natural Gas Holding Company (EGAS).

Minister of Environment Laila Iskandar has vocally opposed using coal as an energy source, stating that will cause health problems for Egyptians after 30 years and will be lead to sanctions from the international community.

Minister of Petroleum Nehad El-Kordy, on the other hand, said in March that using coal is not a “wrong solution”, pointing out that it has been adopted by 42 countries.

Magdi Nasrallah, chair of the petroleum and energy engineering department at the American University in Cairo, agreed. The government had to approve coal use in order to prevent a significant increase in the price of cement, he said.

Nasrallah, too, stressed the importance of setting “strict” environmental regulations, but argued that the current cement production system is more heavily polluting than burning coal for energy. Alternative energy sources “are not practical in the meantime,” he said.


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