The New Amendments to the Implementing Regulations of the Law on Environment: Huge Expansion in the Use of Coal, and Serious Health and Environmental Toll
The Implementing Regulations of the law on Environment has been recently amended by the Prime Minister's Decree no. 964/ 2015, which was published in the official gazette on 19 April 2015. The amended Regulations included the standards and conditions on the use of coal. This amendment has been expected since the decision made by the Council of Ministers, in April 2014, concerning the use of coal as part of the energy mix in Egypt. This use of coal has been approved despite broad popular opposition and despite the objection of a big number of environment and energy experts and some ministers, including the Minister of Environment at the time. This comment considers the new amendment of the Regulations a major setback regarding environmental protection in Egypt, and that they are ominous of serious deterioration of the environment and health in Egypt.
The massive expansion in the use of coal could be the gravest step introduced by the Regulations. The Regulations allowed new industries to use coal that have never been disclosed by any official before. In addition to the cement and power plants, attachment 12 on the standards and norms of the handling and use of coal, introduced new industries such as aluminum, coke, and iron and steel. The Regulations remain open before more industries, as it provided for the introduction of "any other enterprise to be operated by coal according to a decree issued by the Prime Minister." This expansion is a clear indication that the use of coal is not just a matter of overcoming an acute crisis in energy, but rather a de facto transformation of Egypt to a country that relies heavily on coal. This comes as an act of clear contradiction of all proposed energy strategies and sustainable development goals promoted by the government itself.
Civil Society Organizations and many environmental experts repeatedly warned against the toll on health and environment that could be caused by coal, even despite the anti-polluting technologies that could be used. Many studies conducted in developed countries estimated the exhaustive toll of coal on health; for instance this toll was estimated to reach 42 billion euros annually in the European union. 1 In Egypt, a study conducted by the Ministry of the Environment last year estimated health toll of using coal in the cement industry alone by 3.9 billion USD annually, and that of one power plant by 5.9 billion USD annually.2 Studies also maintained that the actual cost of the use of coal – if we add the toll on health – could increase threefold, hence could make coal even more expensive than natural gas
All industries allowed, by the new Regulations, to use coal are energy-intensive. Given this expansion of such industries, hundreds of millions of tons of coal would be used annually. These amounts will have to be imported, unloaded, transported, and stored safely. Harmful emissions from coal burning in scores if not hundreds of enterprises will have to be controlled. Wet and solid wastes laden with carcinogenic and harmful substances will have to be disposed of in safe landfills! And we really wonder how our environment protection system can accommodate such demands, despite the fact that it is currently unable to protect the environment.
Furthermore, this expansion in use of coal - which we import- shall consume many resources and divert many investments away from renewable energy, although Egypt is rich in Solar and wind power. As such, the opportunity of national sovereignty on the sources of energy is lost, and the country would remain subjected to market fluctuations and changes. Egypt will also be delayed in entering the promising market of renewable energy and from occupying a prominent position in it, which some other countries in the region are already doing.
The government had promised to adopt European standards in using coal, and despite the fact, that European standards do not prevent coal harm completely, the Regulations have only been partially compliant with European standards. For example the standards of emissions of solid particles in the air has improved compared to the past; however, they are still higher than the new EU standards that provided for lower emissions closer to those issued by WHO.3 Moreover, other elements such as sulpher and nitrogen levels, are almost double or triple those provided for in EU standards. It is noteworthy that coal is the highest conventional fuel in terms of sulpher emissions.
Furthermore, the regulations introduced other amendments that wasted the partial improvement in the standards, and rather undermining the former level of environment protection. For example the new Regulations revoked a provision that precluded the use of fuels high in sulpher in residential areas.The worst amendment was the revocation of a provision that prohibited completely the use of coal and heavy fuels in residential areas. This provision was substituted with another provision which gives the Prime Minster the power to allow such use when there are "necessary conditions and to serve public interest." In fact, it is difficult to imagine such motivations of "necessity and public interest" that would sacrifice the health and life of residents within the vicinity of plants, and precluding even the transfer of such activities for example to protect the residents or at least to preserve state funds that would be spent on their treatment. It is not even clear what are the accountability mechanisms in place that may guarantee or question such decisions, especially with the strong influence such enterprises have on decision making. Indeed, the plant owners in residential areas seem to be confident of receiving this approval from Prime minister since some have already started the technical adjustment to switch to coal even prior to the issuance of the Regulations.
The situation is further aggravated with the fact that despite allowing high standards for some emissions such as sulpher and nitrogen, and the permission of using coal in residential areas, the Regulations also allowed enterprises a very long grace period, reached five years for cement plants. During this grace period, the enterprises will be allowed to comply only with old standards. This is indeed a step, which voids the improvements of standards from its meaning. Again, the Regulations were very lenient with the cement industry regarding energy efficiency, as they approved the continuation of the high rates of energy consumption; currently almost 28% higher than European rates, thus wasting a chance of saving energy and reducing of the burden of pollution.4
Ultimately, despite some good amendments made by the regulation, and as we acknowledge the importance of stringent standards, it is known that protecting the environment is not only a matter of strict standard or good regulations. This is especially true in presence of weak compliance from factories, which already have bad record of compliance even prior to coal. This is also true given the slackness in the enforcement of the law; and given the need for building capacities and mobilizing financial and knowledge resources of environment control bodies and institutions.
The already present heavy burden of pollution of the environment makes the coal use a very grave issue. The current burden of pollution is much worse than that of the European countries, the source of the new Regulation’s standards. Indeed, Egypt ranks very low even compared to its counterparts: a study conducted in 2008 indicated that the annual cost of the deterioration of some elements of the environment in Egypt amounted to 5.6 billion USD, the highest among Arab countries.5
Maybe the most important missing element in the new Regulations compared to EU standards is the provisions on access to information, transparency, and active participation and consultation of community members. The Regulations should have followed such conditions to which the EU standards dedicated a full chapter, instead of expanding the administrative exceptions and aggravated the exclusion of the community. People, society, and community organizations are indeed the true stakeholders for overseeing the compliance of plants and enterprises and ensuring impartiality and good performance of monitoring and control bodies. They are the true safeguard for the protection of the environment.
The organizations undersigned demand that: the expansion of the use of coal is stopped, limiting its use to the cement industry in particular; no new contracts of power plants are signed. All standards of pollutants should be reviewed to become compliant with EU standards, including energy efficiency. The use of coal is completely prohibited in residential areas. Efficient mechanisms are implemented for access to information and for active participation of community members and CSOs in decision making and in monitoring the implementation.
1. Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights (EIPR)
2. Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR)
3. Egyptian Center for Civil and Legislative Reform (ECCLR)
4. Association for Health and Environment Development (AHED)
5. 350 Egypt
6. Egyptians against Coal Campaign
7. Arab Digital Expression Foundation ( ADEF)
8. The Eye of the Environment Association
2. Muwafi, Samir. "Environmental and Health Impacts of the use of fossil fuels as a source of energy in Egypt", a study presented to support energy policymaking within the framework of sustainable environment, 2014.
4. "The Energy Mix and European Standards for the Cement Industry: Challenges and Prerequisites in Egypt", A study presented to the Council of Ministers, State Ministry for the Environment, 2014.
5. Green Economy in a Changing Arab World, 2011 Report of the Arab Forum for Environment and Development (AFED), 2011.
See: https://www.facebook.com/NoCoal, http://ecesr.org/?p=767487, http://eipr.org/pressrelease/2013/06/23/1739.">https://www.facebook.com/..., http://ecesr.org/?p=767487, http://eipr.org/pressrelease/2013/06/23/1739.