Labour pushes for Lords amendment to energy bill that would cut emissions and close dirtiest plants
Labour will this week urge MPs to vote for tougher controls on Britain’s coal-fired power stations forcing them to reduce their emissions and pollution, as new figures show the old-style plants are responsible for 1,600 premature deaths a year. A report from the Health and Environment Alliance has found air pollution from coal plants causes respiratory problems that have a big impact on public health.
The charity released an analysis showing coal pollution leads to health complications resulting in more than 360,000 lost working days each year.
On Wednesday, MPs will vote on a Lords amendment to the energy bill, led by a coalition of Liberal Democrat and Labour peers, which would close a legal loophole and bring old coal-fired power plants under new regulations – in effect, closing them earlier than planned.
Most of the dirtiest coal stations are expected to close anyway under laws to cut pollution. But without a change to the law, those that upgrade to meet these standards could stay open and avoid regulations on cutting carbon emissions.
Genon Jensen, executive director of the Health and Environment Alliance, said bringing the coal stations under new regulations would have huge health benefits. “Rapidly growing evidence of how coal affects air pollution and our health is pushing this issue on to centre stage in the energy debate. Our report has had a great response from energy ministers and health professionals who are increasingly aware that coal is costly for public health. The time is now ripe to bring the health facts and figures into national debates and cost assessments. Wednesday’s vote offers a unique opportunity.”
Dr Michal Krzyzanowski, visiting professor at King’s College London and formerly with the European Centre for Environment & Health (ECEH) of the World Health Organisation, said: “The scientific evidence that air pollution causes disease is no longer in doubt. Ambient air pollution is recognised as a leading determinant of health globally and in western Europe – and coal combustion is an important source of this pollution. Energy policy must seriously consider the significant health costs resulting from the use of coal.”
Professor Paul Wilkinson, of the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said the costs to health from coal power were “among the largest of any form of electricity production”.
“The costs of reducing greenhouse gases by reducing coal-powered generation would be partially paid back because of lower health costs,” he said.
Environmental groups urged MPs to vote for the Lords amendment. Doug Parr, chief scientist at Greenpeace, said coal power stations “cost the economy and our health service billions of pounds. If the amendment is voted down in the Commons on Wednesday, it could leave much of the UK’s power coming from ageing coal plants for years to come – that will critically damage the health of thousands of people and harm the environment .” But Lady Verma, energy minister, warned the amendment could undermine the country’s energy security and increase fuel prices.
“The government’s goal is an orderly transition away from coal to lower carbon fuels over time in a way which was does not create unnecessary costs for consumers.”