Northern Ireland’s Environment Minister rules out smoky coal ban

A change in law to prohibit the sale of high-polluting fuel would have brought the country in line with the Republic of Ireland.

Northern Ireland’s Environment Minister, Edwin Poots, has this week ruled out introducing a ban on smoky coal, despite widespread concerns over the impact on health and air pollution. Fuel poverty and lack of insulation were presented as key reasons for allowing sales to continue.

black and red leaves on ground

The decision effectively means that rules on coal use in the north of the island and southern Republic will continue to be different, despite concerns reported in the The Irish Times last year about cross-border sale of solid fuels and its impact on air quality – and therefore also health – in areas designated as ‘smokeless zones’. Rife advertising of the fuel in places where it should be illegal was described as ‘appalling’ at the time the article was published. 

Northern Ireland’s rejection of proposals to restrict so-called smoky coal also differ from rules in England, which has long held strict regulations on domestic coal use. Traditional coal is no longer allowed to be sold by retailers, except if it has been extracted from the Forest of Dean. Only anthracite, semi-anthracite, and low-volatile steam coal should be available. 

In contrast, wood fuel is largely considered to be far less of a public health and environmental hazard, although a BBC Panorama episode airing this week asked significant questions about the payment of so-called ‘green subsidies’ to Drax, which operates the UK’s largest power station, generating electricity by burning of wood pellets. Meanwhile, domestic wood burners are known to be a major source of both outdoor and indoor air pollution, making reports from late-summer of a marked rise in wood fuel sales as the public prepared for a steep rise in energy bills particularly worrying. 

Image: Hunter So



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1 year ago

Who says ‘wood fuel is largely considered to be far less of a public health and environmental hazard’? Medical and scientific evidence please. Less polluting than coal maybe but still harmful for human health surely.

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