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Polish activists complain to EU about toxic smog
by Staff Writers
Warsaw (AFP) Feb 17, 2017

London to tax old cars to combat air pollution
London (AFP) Feb 17, 2017 - Motorists in London who own old polluting vehicles are to be hit with a new charge from October, Mayor Sadiq Khan said on Friday, two days after the EU ordered Britain to cut air pollution.

"The context is this: over 9,000 Londoners die each year because of low quality air," Khan told the BBC after announcing the new "Toxic Charge".

The new 10 ($12.5, 11.7 euros) "T-Charge" will apply to motorists who own vehicles that do not meet European standards -- typically petrol and diesel cars registered before 2006 -- and come on top of the congestion charge for the city centre.

All vehicles entering central London already pay a daily 11.50 congestion charge, introduced in 2003 to ease pressure on the city's roads.

The new policy was unveiled two days after the European Union issued a warning to five member states including Britain, urging them to take action on car pollution or risk being sent to the European Court of Justice.

The European Commission said that "persistently high" levels of nitrogen dioxide caused 70,000 premature deaths in Europe in 2013.

Heavy smog has enveloped much of Europe this winter prompting emergency measures in several big cities including London, Paris and Berlin.

In January, London authorities issued a "black" alert for very high levels of particulates -- 10 out of 10 on the air pollution scale -- as a cloud of freezing smog forced the cancellation of around 100 flights.

The new tax is part of a package of measures London will introduce over the coming months and years to tackle high air pollution.

These include no longer buying diesel buses, doubling the amount invested in retrofit buses, and the introduction of an Ultra Low Emission Zone from 2018.

Khan also urged the government to help motorists move away from diesel vehicles and ratify a "Clean Air Act for the 21st century".

Polish environmental groups on Friday filed a complaint with the European Union against national and local authorities for failing to fight lethal levels of smog.

The European Environmental Agency (EEA) blames air pollution -- caused in large part by the burning of coal -- for an estimated 50,000 premature deaths per year in the country of 38 million people.

Seventy percent of Polish households burn low-quality coal or rubbish in old stoves for heating.

Antiquated coal-fired power plants generate nearly all of Poland's electricity, giving it some of the most toxic air in the 28-member EU.

"Poland has Europe's highest air-borne concentrations of the carcinogen benzopyrene -- norms are exceeded four-fold -- breaching both Polish and EU laws," Piotr Cykowski, an activist with the Action Democracy NGO told AFP at the European Commission branch office in Warsaw.

"This is why we're filing a formal complaint to the European Commission which could formally sanction Poland for inaction in fighting lethal smog," he added.

"We were expecting the introduction of a ban on the sale of the lowest quality coal for domestic heating purposes. However, new draft regulations change nothing," said ClientEarth Poland lawyer Agnieszka Warso-Buchanan, noting that the government admits that "a ban would harm the coal industry."

Poland's current rightwing Law and Justice (PiS) government and previous administrations of all political stripes have based energy policy on plentiful domestic coal, while taking little action to mitigate pollution.

Smog has spiked to record levels nationwide in recent years, with windless days this winter causing particularly acute pollution.

A public petition signed by 24,000 Poles backed the formal complaint filed by the NGOs, including global environmental groups Greenpeace and ClientEarth as well as activists from the local Action Democracy and the City is Ours groups.

The European Commission said in an environmental review of Poland published this month it was already "launching infringement procedures" against Poland and other members over "persistent breaches of air quality requirements... which have severe negative effects on health and the environment.

"The aim is to put in place adequate measures to bring all zones into compliance."

The report also estimated that "the health-related external costs from air pollution in Poland are above 26 billion euros ($28 billion) per year.

"These direct economic costs include the 19 million workdays lost each year due to sickness related to air pollution."

It urged Warsaw to "establish emission standards for coal-fired individual heaters" among other measures "in order to mitigate risks."

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