Air pollution bill targeting waste burning in homes stirs controversy


The lower house of Parliament has approved a controversial air pollution bill which would allow local authorities to check what households are burning in their stoves. The bill is to put off people burning waste, such as PET bottles, which significantly contributes to air pollution in many Czech towns and villages. While environment activists are cheering, the centre-right opposition parties have denounced the move as an abuse of individual freedom.

Photo: Miloš TurekPhoto: Miloš Turek The burning of brown coal in many Czech homes significantly contributes to the blanket of smog hanging over many Czech towns and villages throughout the winter months, particularly in the eastern parts of the country. A few years back the authorities had no leverage on individuals who burnt plastic waste in their wood or coal stoves. Today a law is in place which would allow the local town hall to fine waste burning, but only if it can prove that this is, indeed, the case. This has proved near impossible and few have desisted from the practice. Now, the lower house has approved an amendment which would allow inspectors to check up on what people burn, by requesting admission to their home and taking ash samples from their stove.

Those who refuse to let them in face a hefty fine of up to 50,000 crowns. The right-wing opposition parties, who failed to prevent the bill’s approval, are outraged and say they will take the matter to the Constitutional Court. Civic Democrat leader Petr Fiala says a complaint is more than justified.

Petr Fiala, photo: Filip JandourekPetr Fiala, photo: Filip Jandourek “This bill violates the right to privacy, infringes on property rights and allows inspectors to enter your home without a court order.”

Although the bill still needs to win approval in the Senate and be signed into law by the president, the opposition parties say that, given the balance of power in the Senate, its approval in the upper chamber is a foregone conclusion.

Environment Minister Richard Brabec who hailed the bill’s approval in the lower house as an important victory, says it was consulted with legal experts and he is convinced that the Constitutional Court will not uphold the complaint.

“There are many rights and freedoms that fall in the category of individual freedom – and one of them is the right to a healthy environment. We have all seen it happen: two or three families in the village burn waste and pollute the air for everyone else. And there are still thousands of people with old stoves which will burn anything. The burning of waste, together with car pollution and industrial pollution, is one of the three main sources of air pollution. And the only one still unregulated.”

Richard Brabec, photo: Filip JandourekRichard Brabec, photo: Filip Jandourek The bill clearly stipulates the conditions under which inspectors can demand admission to a home – suspicion of repeated burning of waste, photo documentation and a warning letter from the authorities must always precede this move. Minister Brabec says that he believes the actual inspections in homes will be few and far between because the main impact of the law will be in its detrimental effect.