Several days ago hundreds of Bulgarian coal miners and people employed at the country’s power engineering field protested in Bulgaria’s capital Sofia to demand government guarantees that their jobs will be preserved amid bids by the EU to close coal mines and combat climate change. The protesters were supported by the Bulgarian labor unions, the country’s cabinet and its Minister of Energy Temenuzhka Petkova, as well as by the Bulgarian President Rumen Radev. Bulgaria’s head of state Radev said in the Polish city of Katowice within the frameworks of the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (COP 24) that setting more ambitious greenhouse emissions target does not correspond with the Bulgarian national interests and that Bulgaria is about to overfulfil the target and soon reach the planned reduction of harmful emissions by 20% until 2020 compared to 1990. In 2016 the CO2 emissions decreased by 49% as compared to 1990 and by 4.4% as compared to 2015.
In fact, the problem has existed for many years. In 2015 when over 200 countries signed the Paris Agreement on climate change a series of mandatory targets were introduced in relation with the pollution from large thermal power plants. Last year the European Union adopted a document which set deadlines and specified the requirements to the countries in relation with air pollution and greenhouse gas emissions trading.
Bulgaria was highly affected by these environmental measures. This country has been making huge efforts to meet the environmental requirements. However, the four largest thermal power plants in Maritsa East basin which produce 45% of the whole electricity in Bulgaria rely on this country’s coal mining. In fact, no one wants to close down these energy facilities, but they have to fulfill the new measures and buy the necessary filtration technology to achieve environmental performance, which is a very expensive task. The Bulgarian thermal power plants cannot afford to buy these filtration facilities, because their electricity would become too expensive for the Bulgarian consumers. This would cost a lot even to the two US-owned thermal power plants which have been equipped with modern facilities, but they also use the poor-quality lignite coal produced in Maritsa East coal basin. The dust content in this coal is extremely high, which causes huge air pollution.
However, the world environmentalists are not inclined to make compromises. Greenpeace for instance says that the Bulgarian authorities prefer to extend the lifespan of the coal power plants, instead of making efforts to make peoples’ lives longer. Moreover, the number of people who insist that the authorities take more restrictive measures has increased.
What can the Bulgarian authorities do, in order to protect the coal mining industry and meanwhile meet the world and European regulations and standards? If the expenditures made on modernization of the existing power plants exceed the environmental benefits, they can ask for derogation and meanwhile meet the environmental standards in the EU directive. When derogation is granted to given energy facilities, the country is exempt from infringement procedures by the EU, if it does not meet certain environmental standards for a certain period of time. We do not know yet whether or when Bulgaria will be granted derogation. Currently, this country is trading with greenhouse emission quotas. Let us remind that this country has already been sentenced by the EU Court of Justice in Luxembourg for high levels of air pollution in some Bulgarian cities. However, the European Commission has not yet asked the court to impose financial penalties.
English version: Kostadin Atanasov