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Lega, MEPs launch the battle of the chimneys

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Lega, MEPs launch the battle of the chimneys

Cold winter, energy crisis and EU rules on emissions matters. Between Italy and the European Commission there is a tug-of-war over the use of wood to heat homes. It is the MEPs of the League who start “the battle of the chimneys”, which for the moment is being fought with “letters”. Isabella Tovaglieri, Silvia Sardone, Alessandro Panza, Stefania Zambelli, Marco Campomenosi, Angelo Ciocca and Danilo Oscar Lancini sign and present a question to underline the impact of the increase in electricity bills in the Lega’s “historic” region, Padania. “Italy, and in particular the regions around the Po Valley, are in exceptional energy conditions”, which lead us to consider, in the name of exceptionality, the action in derogation from the EU rules on emissions and allow the appeal to «traditional heating systems, such as wood-burning fireplaces».

Hence the explicit request to the Community executive: «Exempt, temporarily, and exceptionally, at least for the autumn and winter 2022-2023», Lombardy, Veneto, Piedmont, Emilia Romagna from compliance with the 2008 directive on air quality. Understandable request, certainly. But in the specific case, the green light does not appear to be taken for granted due to the sentences imposed by the Court of Justice of the EU precisely for too many breaches by the regions themselves.

The European Commission, almost ten years ago, in 2014, launched an infringement procedure against Italy for having systematically and persistently exceeded the limit values ​​for particulate matter (Pm10). After years of exchanges of information, continuous contacts, comparisons and broken promises by local and national authorities, on 10 November 2020 the Court of Justice of the European Union condemned the country for “systematic” exceeding of the Pm10 thresholds. The country essentially acted in open violation of the rules. There is an unhealed situation to deal with.

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Virginius Sinkevicius, the commissioner for the environment who answers to the MEPs of the League, does not offer clear sides for new derogations. Meanwhile, he reminds the Carroccio troops of the aspects related to health. Air pollution, he writes, “is the greatest environmental threat to health, causing about 300,000 premature deaths a year” as well as “a significant number” of non-communicable diseases, such as asthma, cardiovascular problems and lung cancer.

Of course, the Commissioner recalls, the RepowerEU strategy for energy independence “addresses situations in which Member States may consider a temporary relaxation of national standards on polluting emissions under specific pieces of legislation regulating pollution at a source, in the context of fuel substitution plans, within the limits of the derogations permitted by EU law”. So Italy could, in theory, go over. At the same time, however, the Commission intends to “limit the negative impact of these measures” on health and the environment, and in particular on its general objectives of decarbonisation and depollution.

Using fireplaces, is it possible or not? In the Italian case it could not. The directive on air quality, which has been disregarded in Padania, “explicitly requires that the periods of exceedance be as short as possible”, Sinkevicius recalls. A condition that has been ignored for too long, even if not only in the northern regions. But the situation now is that of an energy crisis. The Meloni government will have to negotiate the conditions with Brussels to allow families to warm up without them having to pay new fines in the future. The battle of the chimneys has begun.

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