19 january 2010

A Pacific Island Challenge to European Air Pollution

By JAMES KANTER, New York Times, January 19, 2010

BRUSSELS — A Pacific island nation has challenged plans by the Czech Republic to refit a coal-fired power station, in an appeal that environmental advocates on Monday described as the first of its kind.

The case focuses on efforts by a Czech utility, the CEZ Group, to prolong the life of the power plant in Prunerov, close to the German border. The Federated States of Micronesia maintains that doing so would result in continued emissions of greenhouse gases that contribute to global warming, which it says threaten its existence.

“Climate change is real and it is happening on our shores,” Andrew Yatilman, the director of Micronesia’s office of environment and emergency management, told Reuters. “It’s a matter of survival for us. If you look at the map of the Pacific, we’re just dots in the middle of the ocean.”

Micronesia submitted its arguments to the Czech Ministry of Environment on Jan. 4.

Greenpeace, which is supporting the action by Micronesia, demanded last month that the Czech Republic decommission the plant by 2016.

The Czech authorities were scheduled to take Micronesia’s complaint into account this week in deciding whether the plant was environmentally acceptable, said Jan Rovensky, an energy and climate campaigner with Greenpeace Czech Republic.

Attempts to reach the ministry on Monday were not successful. But Eva Novakova, a press officer for the CEZ Group, said the project already had “obtained positive opinions” from the Czech environmental authorities.

Ms. Novakova said that the refit and a closure of one unit would cut emissions of carbon dioxide from the plant by 31 percent.

Pressure has increased against coal-fired power, putting obstacles in the way of new plants in the United States and Europe.

The failure of nations at the Copenhagen conference to agree to a timetable for a binding agreement on curbing climate change or to agree on a target for reducing emissions by midcentury appears to have lent new urgency to anti-coal campaigns.

Greenpeace said the Czech case put governments and companies “on notice that states vulnerable to climate change are keen to explore new avenues to challenge decisions on projects that contribute to climate change.”

Prunerov is among the largest coal-fired plants in the European Union and the largest single source of carbon dioxide emissions in the Czech Republic.

Without the refit, the plant would close in 2020, but with the refit the station would keep operating until about 2035, said Ms. Novakova.

Leaders of Micronesia, which consists of more than 600 islands grouped into four states, say they are especially vulnerable to phenomena linked to climate change, including a rising sea level, increasingly powerful storms and ocean acidification.

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