Tuesday, 26 April 2016
Department of Environment, Community and Local Government
Bituminous Fuel Ban
423. To ask the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government his Department’s plans to implement a nationwide smoky coal ban; if his officials are actively considering any alternative options to an outright ban; and if so, the options being considered; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8525/16]
424. To ask the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government his views on correspondence (details supplied) regarding a policy commitment put forward by the Asthma Society; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [8482/16]
427. To ask the Minister for Environment, Community and Local Government the timeline for the introduction of an outright ban on bituminous coal here; and if he will make a statement on the matter. [7996/16]
I propose to take Questions Nos. 423, 424 and 427 together.
The ban on the marketing, sale and distribution of bituminous fuel (or ‘smoky coal ban’ as it is commonly known) was first introduced in Dublin in 1990 in response to severe episodes of winter smog that resulted from the wide spread use of smoky coal for residential heating. The ban proved very effective in reducing particulate matter and sulphur dioxide levels in Dublin. As well as bringing air quality levels into compliance with EU standards, the ban also had the effect of significantly improving human health in the capital, with research indicating that the ban in Dublin has resulted in over 350 fewer annual deaths.
In August 2012, following a public consultation process, new solid fuel regulations were introduced with the aim of ensuring that the smoky coal ban remains fit for purpose in safeguarding air quality by limiting harmful emissions of air pollutants arising from the use of certain residential solid fuels. The ban now applies in 26 urban areas nationwide, including all towns with a population greater than 15,000 people, bringing the ban areas broadly into line with national EPA air quality management zones.
In the meantime, air quality monitoring by the EPA has shown that air quality can be poorer in towns where the smoky coal ban does not apply. As there is evidence that smaller smoky coal ban areas tend to be less effective, the further extension of the ban to smaller towns on an individual basis may not be the most effective solution to addressing the problem of emissions from residential solid fuel use in these areas. In addition, having different regulations between urban and rural locations is not ideal as it can result in different levels of environmental protection and clean air benefits for citizens in different locations.
As part of a broad first ever national Clean Air Strategy, I have therefore commenced a process that aims to extend the benefits of the smoky coal ban nationwide. This process necessarily involves discussion and consultation with a wide number of stakeholders, including with the European Commission , relevant Departments and agencies of Government, the residential fuel industry as well as the general public. Preliminary discussions on issues that may arise in connection with the proposed ban have already taken place with some of these stakeholders. It is proposed to launch a public consultation on the national Clean Air Strategy next month, and I expect that the precise legal mechanism for bringing in new minimum product standards will be informed by this process.
Taking account of these consultations and the conclusions of the recently published North South Study on residential solid fuel use, I am aiming for a nationwide smoky coal ban to be in place for the 2017/2018 heating season. This is an ambitious target but I am confident that it is achievable.