Prague has decided not to sign up to a legal appeal against air pollution limits approved by the European Union in 2017. The Czech Ministry of Industry and Trade had argued that the country should join Poland in opposing the curbs, but the cabinet decided otherwise on Wednesday.
The possible legal move has been condemned in advance by the environmental group Greenpeace, whose activists on Tuesday climbed on to a balcony at the Ministry of Industry and Trade and unfurled a large banner declaring it the “Ministry of Coal and Smog”.
The Ministry of Industry and Trade had suggested that the Czech Republic should add its weight to a legal appeal being lodged by the government in Warsaw.
However, Prime Minister Andrej Babiš told the Chamber of Deputies on Tuesday that he was more inclined to back the Ministry of the Environment, which was strongly opposed to going to the European courts over the matter.
Speaking after Wednesday’s decision, the minister of the environment, Richard Brabec, said that the government had decided by an overwhelming majority to support his department’s position.
Minister Brabec said the issue of environmental impact was at stake and that that the Prague cabinet were not convinced the legal action had a chance of success or would not take the form of a “wild debate”.
In a document it submitted to the government, the Ministry of Industry and Trade had referred to estimates produced by the national technical working group, which is comprised of representatives of the country’s key energy plants.
The industry group argued that the estimated costs of introducing limits under the Brussels decision would mean the sector would have to plough CZK 15 billion to CZK 20 billion more into green investments than it already had.
The Minister of Industry and Trade, Tomáš Hüner, also referred to the figure of CZK 20 billion on Tuesday. He said that this would have a knock-on effect of higher prices for heat and electricity and could even result in “the relatively rapid disintegration of the centralised heat supply.”
Mr. Hüner also pointed out that the Czech Republic had criticized pollution limits from the outset, and that it had already invested CZK 40 billion crowns in 107 combustion plants with a view to cutting emissions.
Predictably, Greenpeace welcomed Wednesday’s decision. The group’s Jan Rovenský said it hoped the minister had learned from the experience and would abstain from such bad ideas in future.
The environmental activist said also that the argumentation underpinning Poland’s legal action was relatively weak.
The Czech Republic has now become one of the most progressive states in Europe when it comes to clean air, said lawyer Laura Haiselová of Frank Bold, a legal firm that focuses on environmental matters.