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Czech health minister backs coal mining phase-out

Tuesday, January 19th, 2021

Czech Health Minister Jan Blatny in Prague, Czech Republic, 29 October 2020. [EPA-EFE/MARTIN DIVISEK]

The Czech government will discuss plans to phase out coal next week. A special coal commission already recommended in December to close down coal mines and power plants by 2038, but the final decision is up to the government.

However, the Czech governing cabinet formed by the ruling ANO party of Prime Minister Andrej Babiš and junior partner Social Democrats (ČSSD) is divided over this issue.

While industry and trade minister Karel Havlíček (ANO) supports a coal phase-out by 2038, environment minister Richard Brabec (ANO) thinks the Czech Republic should get rid of coal five years earlier. Minister of Foreign Affairs Tomáš Petříček (ČSSD) also supported the end of coal use by 2033.

“Tolerating coal until 2038 is nonsense. At the cabinet meeting, I will oppose the idea of coal phase-out to be done 17 years from now,” Petříček said.

Czechs eyes coal phase-out by 2038

The Czech coal commission recommended to phase out coal by 2038. Environmental groups, who fought for 2033, were outvoted and walked out of the commission in protest.

The so-called “progressive” camp supporting an earlier 2033 end date for coal could be supported by health minister Jan Blatný (ANO).

“Still, I realise we need another source of energy,” Blatný said. “We do not have conditions like Austria to produce most of the energy from renewable sources. In my opinion, the alternative is nuclear power,” he added, backing the construction of new nuclear plants in the Czech Republic.

Coal plants currently produce around 40% of the country’s electricity. The future energy mix after the coal phase-out is expected to rely largely on nuclear and renewable energy sources, even though the government is lagging behind in developing wind and solar power.

“Last but not least, I clearly support energy savings and carbon footprint reductions,” the Czech health minister said. “We only have one planet. If we do not take care of it, it will take care of itself and it will hurt us,” Blatný told EURACTIV.cz.

The position of the other cabinet members is not entirely clear yet. For instance, labour minister Jana Maláčová (ČSSD) is calling for additional studies before making a decision.

“The Czech Republic’s shift away from coal is not just about the year, such a change will have a major impact on people and regions,” Maláčová said. “I have asked the ministry of industry and trade and the ministry of the environment to draw up a social impact plan and a heating strategy. This has to be clear before the vote on the phase-out date,” she insisted.

A tender to decide who builds a new unit at a Czech nuclear power plant may face delays after security services and opposition parties raised concerns about the possible participation of bidders from China and Russia, officials said.

Czech doctors call for an early coal exit

For his part, health minister Blatný broadly shares the views of doctors and environmental groups when it comes to coal.

On Monday, more than sixty Czech doctors signed an initiative “For Healthy Hearts,” calling for an end of coal mining as soon as possible because of the negative impacts of coal-induced air pollution on human health.

“We are doctors and paramedics and we care about only one thing: the health of our patients,” said the group of more than sixty doctors, including surgeon Pavel Pafko, ecotoxicologist Radim Šram and health risk assessment expert Eva Rychlíková.

“We are therefore appealing to the government, MPs, senators, councillors, mining companies, energy companies and all the others involved – end coal mining and burning as soon as possible and move on to modern and clean energy sources. We want to see dates and responsibilities that will lead to a quick solution,” they wrote in a letter.

The doctors also emphasised the link between poor air quality and the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic. “According to scientists, polluted air also exacerbates the course of COVID-19 disease, as well as other diseases of the respiratory tract. Our (Czech) air is dirtier than in the vast majority of EU countries, mainly due to coal mining and burning – from large power plants to small domestic boilers,” they argue.

https://www.euractiv.com/section/air-pollution/news/czech-health-minister-backs-coal-mining-phase-out-as-soon-as-possible/
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