“Even though the methane compromise can be considered bittersweet, it nevertheless is a step in the right direction, an attempt at reconciling the limitations on methane emissions generated by the EU’s energy industry with acknowledging the needs of industry and the job market,” writes Jadwiga Wiśniewska MEP for BiznesAlert.pl.
The European Parliament and the Council have reached an agreement on the methane regulation. The law aims to reduce methane emissions from the energy sector-primarily from the oil, gas and coal sectors – and is the first of its kind in the European Union regulating methane, a gas with a high greenhouse impact. It is responsible for a third of the global warming. In the course of difficult and arduous negotiations, a compromise was reached, taking into account the demands of the Polish mining trade unions, presented during a meeting with the Silesia-Dąbrowa “Solidarity” TU. It is worth noting that the meeting was attended by MEPs from all political factions.
In principle, the agreement on the methane regulation is in line with the social agreement concluded with the mining sector and removes the threat of premature mine closures. However, this was not easy, and so the mining sector experienced a long period of uncertainty. It is necessary to recall how dangerous the first proposals of the European Commission were for the Polish mining industry, as their adoption would de facto mean the closure of Polish mines, which would threaten Poland’s energy security.
The industry looked with great concern at the Commission’s restrictive proposals, which imposed burdensome rules on the energy sector related to monitoring, reporting and repairing methane leaks, for example from transmission pipelines or distribution networks, and venting and burning methane on torches – among other things from active mine shafts. Both the European Parliament and the Council faced the difficult task of improving the Commission’s proposals so as to maintain an appropriate level of ambition about climate, while taking into account the capabilities of the industry.
The mining sector in Poland focused its attention primarily on the provisions of the regulation concerning the reduction of methane emissions from active black and coking coal mines. The initial provisions were extremely restrictive and would have led to operating costs and penalties for failure to comply with regulatory obligations so high, that it would have put bituminous coal mines in Poland at a risk of premature closure. The compromise is in line with the demands made by the mining sector: the permissible threshold for methane emissions in mines through ventilation windows will be five tons of methane per a thousand tons of coal mined as of 2027, which means a tenfold increase as opposed to the limits proposed by the Commission. From 2031, the threshold will be lowered to three tons of methane per thousand tons of coal mined. It is worth mentioning that the thresholds will be averaged and calculated at the level of the mine operator, and not per individual mine, which will introduce the necessary level of flexibility.
The agreement also reflects the status of coking coal as a raw material of critical importance for the European economy, and it must be remembered that in Europe it is mined almost only in Poland. The temporary derogation for coking coal mines has been maintained. In the next step, three years after the entry into force of the new regulation, the European Commission is to issue a special delegated act setting methane emission standards for these mines.
In case of a possible non-compliance from the mining sector, instead of imposing heavy penalties on mine operators, member states will be able to introduce a system of emissions charges, which will then be returned to the budgets of mines in the form of incentives for the implementation of projects that reduce methane emissions.
The inter-institutional agreement also significantly relaxed the provisions for a programme to detect, monitor and correct methane leaks in the gas sector.
The next item of the regulation is imports of energy resources – gas, coal and oil – from third countries. The European Parliament was determined to have a regulation ensuring fair competition between national producers and those outside the Union. The Commission’s proposal would in practice mean that the European sector would have to invest huge amounts of money to ensure compliance with methane emission standards, while competitors from outside the EU would enrich themselves by importing raw materials into Europe, the extraction of which involves non-compliance with stringent environmental standards. The agreement reconciles the need to ensure the competitiveness of the European economy with the need to guarantee a constant and uninterrupted supply of raw materials, mainly gas.
In summary, while the methane agreement can be said to be bittersweet, it is nevertheless a step in the right direction, an attempt to reconcile the reduction of methane emissions from the energy sector in the Union, while respecting the needs of industry and jobs in the sectors covered by the regulation. In the next steps, the regulation will be formally adopted by the European Parliament and the member states and will then enter into force.