WWF cries foul over law to extend Turkey’s thermal coal plant regulation

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) Turkey says the coal-fired power plants in the country will continue to cause harm to public health and environment until June 30, 2022 thanks to a new law approved by parliament last month.

The Turkish Parliament (TBMM)  extended environmental exemptions awarded to the privatized thermal power plants for the fourth time and made them continue to operate without having a desulphurization system or modernized dust filters.

The bill was passed on November 21 by votes of the ruling Justice and Development Party (AKP) and its election ally Nationalist Movement Party (MHP).

It gave 15 coal-fired plants extra two-and-a-half years for filter installation. The plants which were privatized in 2013 had been given time until the end of 2019 to complete the required environmental arrangements.

Critics say most of the plant operators have not invested in filters or flue gas systems during the previous extension periods. Environmental exemptions have been awarded to the plants as a subsidy so that they are not obligated to follow environmental regulations.

The environmentalist group claimed that the cessation of thermal power plants to install filters would not result in power shortages in the country, refuting claims by  Abdullah Tancan, the Vice Minister of the Energy and Natural Resources Ministry.

Tancan alleged during the parliamentary commission meetings that the pause for the filter installments may cause power shortages and the plants should, therefore, be granted extra time in that regard.

The pro-government CNN Turk news channel also came under harsh criticism by many, including environmental NGOs, due to its news broadcast on Friday emphasizing the possible negative impact of the plants’ break on people and the economy.

“Halting 15 [thermal] plants for 10 days means 500,000 people will be deprived of energy,” Beste Uyanik, CNN Turk presenter said during the program.

The WWF said the power plants were in reality active only 65-70 days per year and that all of them were not supposed to be stopped at the same time during the filter installation.

“Supply [of energy from thermal power plants] is much higher than demand as more plants were installed [in the country] than needed. Therefore, it is not a problem to temporarily stop the plants that are not continuously working in order to make the necessary arrangements,” the NGO vowed.

The WWF Turkey emphasized an increase in cancer-related deaths in places where the plants are located, referring to a study by the Right to Clean Air Platform.

The platform had shown that air pollution caused seven times as many deaths than traffic accidents in 2017 in Turkey. The analysis was reportedly conducted by taking into account air pollution measurements and death statistics.

In 2018 a total of  7,424 people were killed in traffic accidents in the country which is home to 80 million people.

If the air pollution had been reduced to values suggested by the World Health Organization (WHO), 13 percent of the deaths could have been prevented, the same analysis said.

At the beginning of this year, another bid on the extension of these exemptions had been discussed in the TBMM. However, the bid was withdrawn at the time due to a bipartisan reaction against it.

The World Health Organization (WHO) identifies air pollution as one of the greatest public health risks. The increase in pollution levels shortens the life-span and increases the incidence of cancer, cardiovascular diseases, and stroke.

In February, Associate Professor Dr. Gamze Varol from the Turkish Medical Association echoed the WHO.

“The linkage between air pollution and infant mortality, premature deaths, growth and developmental delay, learning disorders, memory and behavior problems are being cleared than before. As the most basic human right, the protection of human health cannot be postponed for another two years, who will pay the heavy price of the people suffering from air pollution?”

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