US President Joe Biden believes the Nord Stream 2 natural gas pipeline is a “bad deal for Europe” and his administration will be reviewing restrictions on the project included in a bill that passed during the Trump administration, the White House said on Tuesday (26 January), write Timothy Gardner and Trevor Hunnicutt.
The restrictions on the undersea pipeline project were included in the annual defense policy bill that passed on 1 January. Sanctions in the measure apply to any companies helping Gazprom, the Russian state energy company leading the project, to lay pipeline, insure vessels or verify equipment.
The Trump administration, like the Obama administration before it, opposed the project on the grounds it would strengthen Russian President Vladimir Putin’s economic and political influence over Europe. Russia has cut deliveries of the fuel to Ukraine and parts of Europe in winter during pricing disputes.
Biden has also opposed the project, which would bypass Ukraine and deprive it of lucrative transit fees, since he was vice president under former President Barack Obama. Russia and Germany say the pipeline is a purely commercial project.
“We continue to believe, the president continues to believe, that Nord Stream 2 is a bad deal for Europe,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki told the daily briefing, adding the administration “will be reviewing” the restrictions included in the defense policy legislation.
The $11 billion pipeline, which is 90% complete, would double the capacity of the existing Nord Stream duct to deliver gas from Russia to Europe via Germany under the Baltic Sea.
The issue is coming to a head as the Senate has begun confirming Biden Cabinet members who could weigh in on decisions on the project, including Secretary of State Antony Blinken, and as construction resumes after being stalled for about a year following a threat of sanctions from the United States and the withdrawal of pipe-laying company Allseas.
A ship called the Fortuna on which Washington slapped sanctions on former President Donald Trump’s last full day in office last Wednesday (20 January), has begun work in deep waters off Denmark, ahead of the resumption of construction, Nord Stream 2 said on Sunday (24 January).
The State Department is expected to issue a report to Congress soon on the companies helping Gazprom complete the project, which could add pressure to firms to drop out. Some companies, including Zurich Insurance Group and Norway’s risk management and quality assurance firm DNV GL, have dropped work on the project.
Commission approves €254 million Romanian aid to support rehabilitation of district heating system in Bucharest
The European Commission has approved, under EU state aid rules, Romanian plans to support the upgrade of the district heating system of the municipality of Bucharest. Romania notified the Commission of its plans to provide public support of approximately €254 million (1,208 billion RON) for the rehabilitation of the distribution network (notably the “transmission” pipelines of hot water to the main distribution points) of the district heating system in the urban area of Bucharest. The planned support will take the form of a direct grant financed by EU Structural Funds managed by Romania. EU state aid rules allow member states to support district heating generation installations and distribution networks, subject to certain conditions set out in Commission's 2014 Guidelines on State aid for environmental protection and energy.
In particular, the Guidelines provide that the projects must meet the criteria of “efficient district heating” set out in the Energy Efficiency Directive in order to be considered compatible under EU state aid rules. On the basis of the type of heat fed into the system - about 80% of its input comes from “cogeneration” sources – the Commission has found that the Bucharest system fulfils the definition of efficient district heating and cooling system, as set out in the Energy Efficiency Directive and in line with State aid rules. The Commission also found that the measure is necessary, as the project would not be carried out without the public support, and proportionate, as the project will deliver a reasonable rate of return. On this basis, the Commission concluded that the measure does not distort competition and is in line with EU State aid rules, notably thanks to the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and other polluting substances and the improvement of the energy efficiency of the district heating system.
Executive Vice President Margrethe Vestager, in charge of competition policy, said: “This €254 million aid measure, funded thanks to EU structural funds, will help Romania achieve its energy-efficiency targets and will contribute to the reduction of greenhouse gas and other pollutants emissions, without unduly distorting competition.”
The full press release is available online.
Czech Republic to sue Poland over Turów coal mine
Local groups and NGOs today welcomed the Czech government’s decision to file a lawsuit at the European Court of Justice against the Polish government for the illegal operation of the Turów lignite coal mine, which has been dug right up to the Czech and German borders, damaging local water supplies for nearby communities. This is the first such legal case for the Czech Republic and the first in EU’s history where one member state sues another for environmental reasons, writes Europe Beyond Coal Communications Office Alistair Clewer.
Milan Starec, a Czech citizen from Liberec region (Uhelná village): “The decision by our government to file a lawsuit against Poland comes as a relief for us who live next to the mine. In 2020 alone, the groundwater level in the area fell by eight meters, which is double what PGE said would happen by 2044. Our worries have been replaced with fear. It is crucial that our government demands a cessation of illegal mining as PGE still refuses to accept its responsibility, while asking for permission to destroy our water resources and neighborhood for another 23 years.”
Kerstin Doerenbruch, Greenpeace Berlin: “Germany is also stepping up in the case against Turów, with regional representatives and citizens in Saxony bringing their own complaint before the European Commission in January. We now call on the German government to step up and protect people’s homes and the Neiße river by joining the Czech lawsuit against Poland.”
Anna Meres, Climate and Energy Campaigner, Greenpeace Poland: “Poland has acted recklessly and unlawfully by issuing a permit for the further expansion, so it is no surprise that this case has been brought to the European Court of Justice. Poland’s increasingly irrational support for coal expansion is not only harming health, water supplies, and worsening the climate crisis: it’s isolating us from our friends and neighbours, and robbing our workers and communities of better, more sustainable jobs. 78 percent of Poles want to abandon coal by 2030, it’s time to listen to them, to stop burdening border communities, and to plan a better future for all.”
Zala Primc, Europe Beyond Coal Campaigner: “People in surrounding countries are paying the price for Poland’s push to mine coal for decades to come with their health and water security. We call on the European Commission, which is responsible for ensuring that EU laws are implemented, to start an infringement procedure against the Polish government, and to become a party to the Turów case in front of the EU Court of Justice.
- The European Commission’s recently released a reasoned opinion which stated that multiple violations of EU law. The negotiations between the two countries came to a standstill, as Poland rejected the Czech Republic’s conditions for a settlement. The Turow mine, which is owned by Polish state-owned utility PGE, has been operating illegally, after the Polish government extended its licence by six years in April 2020, despite failing to carry out a correct public consultation or an environmental impact assessment, which are required by EU law. PGE even applied for a prolongation of the mining concession from 2026 until 2044, which would include an expansion of the mine, while negotiations with the Czech government and the affected Liberec Region were still happening, but none of the Czech parties was informed. A decision is expected in April 2021.
- A German expert study also exposed impacts the Turów mine has on the German side of the border: the pollution it causes at the Lusatian Neisse River, lowering of the groundwater and the subsidence that could damage houses around the city of Zittau. The study also estimates that water shortages could mean it will take 144 years to fill the open pit once it has been closed – much longer than claimed by PGE (https://bit.ly/3uoPO7s). English summary: https://bit.ly/2GTebWO.
- The German expert study prompted the Lord Mayor of Zittau Thomas Zenker, Daniel Gerber, Member of Saxon Parliament, and other citizens of Saxony to also file a complaint with the European Commission in January (https://bit.ly/2NLLQVY). In February, the case was also dealt with by the Saxon Parliament, whose members called on the German government to accede to the Czech lawsuit if it was brought before the EU Court of Justice (https://bit.ly/3slypLp).
- Numerous efforts have been made so far to rouse the European Commission into action: interventions by Members of the European Parliament (https://bit.ly/2G6FH2H), a call for action by the mayor of the German city Zittau ([https://bit.ly/3selwTe), petitions by Czechs and affected citizens (https://bit.ly/2ZCnErN), a study highlighting the negative impacts the mine is having on the Czech side (https://bit.ly/2NSEgbR), a formal complaint by the Czech city Liberec (https://bit.ly/2NLM27E) and a resolution by the European Greens (https://bit.ly/3qDisQ9). The International Commission for the Protection of the Odra River from Pollution (ICPO), which consists of Polish, German and Czech delegates, has also become involved in the Turów case, classifying the mine as a “supra-regionally significant problem” that requires coordinated action between the three countries (https://bit.ly/3btUd0n).
Europe Beyond Coal is an alliance of civil society groups working to catalyze the closures of coal mines and power plants, prevent the building of any new coal projects and hasten the just transition to clean, renewable energy and energy efficiency. Our groups are devoting their time, energy and resources to this independent campaign to make Europe coal free by 2030 or sooner. www.beyond-coal.eu
Energy – EESC President Christa Schweng and Commissioner Kadri Simson say 2021 will be the year of delivery
The European Economic and Social Committee (EESC) and the European Commission believe that the clean energy transition must be at the heart of the post-COVID-19 European Union and that now is the time to accelerate implementation of green measures for economic recovery.
2021 must be the time for action to speed up implementation of measures for energy efficiency and sustainable development in Europe. This is the message that EESC President Christa Schweng and European Commissioner for Energy Kadri Simson conveyed at the discussion on the presentation of the European Commission's 2021 Work Programme and its priorities in the field of energy, held in Brussels and remotely on 11 February 2021.
Schweng stressed that in 2020 (compared to 2019), global energy demand was estimated to have dropt by around 5%, energy-related CO2 emissions by 7%, and energy investment by 18% but that recoveries from previous global economic crises had generally been accompanied by a large jump in emissions. "A similar rebound in emissions can be expected after this crisis unless an effort is made to place green energy at the heart of the economic recovery. Now is the time to accelerate clean energy transitions, energy resilience and sustainable development," she said.
The prompt and targeted implementation of the EU financial programmes (Recovery and Resilience Facility, NextGenerationEU, Just Transition Plans) will play a key role in the EU's recovery and in achieving the European Green Deal targets. "It is important to underline that the energy transition is not just a technological issue but also a profoundly social and political challenge. Due consideration, particularly in the context of the COVID-19 crisis, must be given to the real impact of action taken in the energy sector on the life of citizens and business." That is why it is important that civil society organizations are involved in the preparation of the national recovery plans.
For her part, Simson described 2020 as a difficult, unprecedented and disruptive year but also a breakthrough year for energy in Europe: "Almost one year ago, the Commission proposed a new European Green Deal Strategy for Europe. And with it, we set the goal of a climate-neutral Europe by 2050. The member states have now also endorsed this objective."
Looking ahead, she mentioned that while 2020 was the year of strategies and visions, 2021 would be the year of delivery, with several key legislative proposals on renewable energy, energy efficiency, energy performance of buildings, methane emissions and the gas market, to be adopted in June: "As announced in the Commission's 2021 Work Programme, the "Fit for 55" package will include five legislative proposals revising existing energy legislation in order to cut greenhouse gas emissions by at least 55% compared to 1990 levels, as decided in the Climate Target Plan in September last year. To this end, the renewable energy share needs to increase to 38-40% by 2030."
Stressing the importance of the cooperation between the EESC and the Commission, Ms Simson added that the Committee's members could play a crucial role in achieving these goals, as the expertise of business and civil society players will be valuable in the process of prioritising energy and climate projects in both the Recovery and Resilience Plans and the Just Transition Plans.
In this respect, Baiba Miltoviča, president of the EESC Section for Transport, Energy, Infrastructure and the Information Society (TEN), referred to the need to coordinate work among the EU institutions and the importance of the social and societal dimension of the energy transition: "In many EESC opinions, TEN section members have discussed energy poverty, which has become a pressing issue in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. Energy poverty is an example of social, environmental and economic injustice. The risk is that those in energy poverty will end up paying for the energy transition and energy policies. We need to do more in this regard".
For more information on the TEN section's activities, please consult the website.
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