The UK says proposed EU pollution rules would kill its coal sector

The British government will try to further weaken proposed European pollution regulations they claim could kill the country’s coal sector, according to documents seen by Unearthed.

The power plant emissions rules – called BREF – were significantly watered down earlier this year after lobbying by a number of country delegations, including the one from the UK.

As it stands, BREF is less stringent than equivalent pollution standards already introduced by Japan, the US and even China.

Read the BREF scandal, explained

In its latest feedback to the Technical Working Group that designed the rules, the Department for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) called for a clause that would recognise the proposed sulphur (SO2) emissions limit as impossible to meet “if indigenous coal is used”.

With an average sulphur content of 1.7%, UK coal is more sulphuric than most imported coals — Russian, Colombian, South African and Indonesian coal all have a sulphur content below 1%.


Best available technique’ Reference document.

It sets out different environmental performance standards for big industrial plants including coal and lignite plants.

It will likely be adopted in early 2016 ahead of EU-wide implementation by 2020.

To comply with the sulphur bit of BREF, UK coal plants would have to replace their desulphurisation units, which the government says would be both excessively expensive and pretty pointless since the country won’t be really be using coal in 10 years time.

Read DECC’s promise to cut coal use is not really a promise to cut coal use

Plant operators, the document claims, will choose to import low sulphur coal because it’s cheaper — leading “to the loss of the principal market for UK coal and the closure of the UK’s coal mines” and making the country “wholly reliant on imported coal, exposing it to energy security risks”.

Essentially, the UK is arguing that it wants to use dirty indigenous coal rather than cleaner coal from abroad.

And then they play the CCS card, arguing that the “the UK’s coal mines and infrastructure to ensure that indigenous coals are available for new coal stations which must be fitted with Carbon Capture and Storage”.

The UK has also lobbied for weaker mercury and nitrogen oxide (NOx) emissions limits.

These comments won’t change the the Technical Working Group’s June proposal but they do give an indication as to what countries will fight for later on in the legislative process.

What do the other countries say?

The latest slew of submissions show that, like the UK, the Czech Republic delegation opposes pretty much everything in the already watered down BREF.

Germany stands against the NOx limits for lignite plans, and Poland wants weaker mercury and NOx limits across the board.