The reports are beautiful, but it still stinks: why the Clean Air national project is stalling

The reports are beautiful, but it still stinks: why the Clean Air national project is stalling

The reports are beautiful, but it still stinks: why the Clean Air national project is stalling
Analytics

17 November, 16:58
Cheap coal, gray enterprises and monitoring problems. The State Duma is trying to understand why air quality is declining in Russian cities, despite the Clean Air program. Novye Izvestia listened to the arguments of deputies, officials and environmentalists.

Alexander Dybin

Ecologists are concerned about the national project "Clean Air", according to which the 12 most polluted cities of the country should reduce emissions into the atmosphere by 20%. The project was promised to be completed by 2024, but the implementation period was shifted by two years. More than 6 million people live in these "black sky" cities. At the same time, the environment for the population is one of the most powerful triggers that, in particular, motivate people to move. Sholban Kara-ool, deputy chairman of the State Duma, former head of the Republic of Tyva, spoke about this at parliamentary hearings on the interim results of the program.

“Unfortunately, the outflow of population from a number of Siberian cities is associated, among other things, with environmental problems, these are Ulan-Ude, Abakan, Krasnoyarsk, Kyzyl,” he said, “when I was governor, I stated that if there is a person who can solve the problem of the ecology of Kyzyl, I am ready to give way to him. Then all my efforts failed. This is a screaming problem in Siberia. This is a glaring problem and one of the solutions could be to establish incentives for electric companies, which would be able to upgrade their networks with the help of a federal subsidy and thus provide stable electric heating for the population. We do not even dream of gasification, although it is not normal when gas is produced in Siberia, but the cities are not provided with gas supply.”

In 2022, four cities from the list of the most polluted showed a negative trend. The air quality in them, according to the results of monitoring by Roshydromet, has deteriorated, although the regions report on the implementation of measures. The black list includes Bratsk, Krasnoyarsk, Novokuznetsk and Chelyabinsk.

“First category facilities were inspected, over 500 violations were identified, such as unreliable emission indicators, lack of gas treatment plants, etc.”, - said Dmitry Kobylkin, chairman of the State Duma Committee on Ecology, “more than 2,000 submissions. It is important to provide for administrative liability for failure to achieve the national project indicators. Yes, the deadline has been extended until 2026, but there may not be any dramatic improvements in the next three years”.

Three pillars of the national project

According to the Minister of Ecology and Natural Resources of the Russian Federation Alexander Kozlov, the national project is based on three important parts: a new legislative framework, new emission quotas for enterprises, and comprehensive plans that list what actually needs to be done in each city to reduce emissions from gardening and transfer of stove heating to gas before the demolition of old boiler houses and workshops and the construction of modern ones in their place.

“The next two years will be key for the federal project”, - Kozlov said, “because the enterprise's environmental programs will be completed, city blocks will switch to gas. 97% of the reduction in emissions is the share of enterprises or one and a half million tons of pollutants. There were disputes over quotas, but all big business is participating in the project. The total cost of comprehensive plans is 865 billion rubles. The measures have already been financed for 485 billion. Most of the costs are investments by enterprises that install filters, modernize cleaning systems, and build new, more modern workshops. But we also set up the regions for maximum frankness with residents on environmental issues”.

The situation in each of the 12 cities is different. Somewhere, like in Chita, the main problem is heating the private sector with coal. The same is true for Krasnoyarsk and many other cities that were not included in the program. Basically, these are the regions of Siberia and the Far East, which have become hostages of cheap coal. It is cheaper and easier for people to heat with coal than to draw gas or to engage in electric heating of houses. And someone, like, for example, current or former employees of coal enterprises, generally receive fuel for free - the so-called ration coal - it is extremely difficult to convince them to switch to paid gas.

“I calculated how many enterprises from these 12 cities received dividends over 10 years and a tenth of this money would be enough to solve problems,” said LDPR representative, State Duma deputy Yevgeny Markov, “but we don’t have any tools: no increase in fines, no incentives. And the work that Gazprom is doing to convert vehicles to gas, to heat LNG, it has a slow pace, there are many initiatives, but there are not enough moves from Gazprom”.

It still stinks

Other cities have one major polluter, like Cherepovets, Lipetsk or Magnitogorsk, and the work here is much more successful than in other cities. And there are situations, like in Chelyabinsk, where several large enterprises with owners in other cities influence the air, and in order to direct them into an ecological direction, a political field is required.

Vice-Governor of the Chelyabinsk Region Alexander Kozlov, who is in charge of environmental issues, noted that a number of enterprises are now experiencing problems with the supply of equipment for environmental modernization.

“There are several pains that were revealed when they were stockpiling, collecting information on how enterprises would carry out comprehensive plans”, - Kozlov said, “basically they confirm funding, there is money. But the problem is technology. Everything used to be supplied to the by-product coke from Ukraine. Electrode production is based on German technologies. May consider creating industry-specific centers of excellence to address this issue. At one time, we invested heavily in the monitoring system. There is a proposal that enterprises set up their environmental monitoring posts, in addition to pipes, also at control points and transmit data to our common system. We are ready to conduct a pilot project. Everyone read the report of Roshydromet, they revealed the same substances: benzaperene, nitrogen dioxide. Rospotrebnadzor intended something else, we opened our system. We see that our posts are a little different there. People are at a loss: these alone intended one thing, these - another.

According to Vladimir Burmatov, Deputy Chairman of the State Duma Committee on Ecology, the dissatisfaction of residents of problematic cities is based not on numbers and reports, but on smell, which, by the way, is not regulated in any way and is not taken into account in terms of ecology.

“It’s useless to explain to people that something has been reduced when it doesn’t stink, then the program started working. The only criterion for the effectiveness of the Clean Air project is the satisfaction of citizens with the results of its implementation and the real reduction in emissions. While this is not the case, - said Burmatov, - we urgently need to pass our bill on toughening responsibility for distorting and concealing environmental information, because the lies of officials that road works are to blame for air pollution in industrial centers or smog from neighboring regions discredit all work and all project".

Another problem that the national project does not solve is enterprises from the gray zone, which operate without registration, permits in secret from government agencies and residents. But often, there are processes that give strong emissions. This was told by a public figure from Omsk Vladimir Lifantyev, who showed footage taken at an enterprise where bitumen and used engine oil are melted. But legally this mini-factory does not exist.

“70% of Omsk residents understand that work is underway on the Clean Air program, but they do not feel the dynamics,” the activist says, “gray pollutants are a source of emissions. In Omsk, the prosecutor's office hears us, we are trying to cooperate. But due to legal restrictions, we are stuck in moments when we can not go for a check for 3-4 months. We are trying to solve this problem with a shaman's tambourine. We have solutions to protect businesses, a moratorium on inspections, but no solutions to protect citizens. The gray zone must be moved to a separate document. It is important for us to understand how to work with those who are simply hiding”.

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