The ban on the marketing, sale and distribution of bituminous fuel (or ‘smoky coal ban’ as it is commonly known) was first introduced in Dublin in 1990 in response to severe episodes of winter smog that resulted from the widespread use of smoky coal for residential heating. Air quality monitoring carried out by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) shows that the ban has proved very effective in reducing particulate matter and sulphur dioxide levels in Dublin and the ban was subsequently extended to other urban areas. The ban currently applies in twenty cities and towns.
The main legislative provisions that apply inside specified smoky coal ban areas are as follows: a ban on the marketing, sale and distribution of bituminous fuel; requirement to sell smokeless coal in sealed bags with a printed notice; requirement to maintain a register if storing bituminous fuel for the purpose of placing on the market or on sale at a separate location outside the ban area; bituminous fuel can only be transported in minimum quantities of 3 metric tonnes in Dublin or 1 tonne inside other ban areas; and drivers of vehicles transporting bituminous fuel must hold a record detailing the type of fuel on board, who supplied it and where it is being transported to.
On 31 August 2012, following a public consultation process, I gave effect to new consolidating solid fuel regulations, the Air Pollution Act (Marketing, Sale, Distribution and Burning of Specified Fuels) Regulations 2012. Some improved and updated provisions were introduced that will help to ensure that the Regulations remain fit for purpose in safeguarding air quality by limiting harmful emissions of air pollutants arising from the use of residential fuels. These are as follows: most existing smoky coal ban area boundaries were revised to take recent urban development into account; seven new towns will be added to the ban from May 2013 - Greystones, Letterkenny, Mullingar, Navan, Newbridge, Portlaoise and Wicklow Town; and a prohibition on the burning of bituminous fuel was provided for, to complement the established ban on its marketing, sale and distribution.
The Regulations also require that all bituminous coal sold outside smoky coal ban areas for residential use outside those areas must have a sulphur content of no more than 0.7%. This consolidates the environmental and related human health benefits achieved by an earlier voluntary agreement with the Solid Fuel Trade Group (SFTG), representing the majority of major coal importers.
Coal bagging operators and certain solid fuel suppliers trading in bituminous coal must be registered with the EPA. Those who must register include all fuel wholesalers and distributors of bituminous coal but only those retailers for whom 50% or more of their total annual sales proceeds are from bituminous coal. However all retailers who trade in bituminous coal must ensure that their fuel wholesalers are registered with the EPA and must hold a record to this effect with their supplier's registration number.
The Regulations continue to be enforced by local authority authorised persons. Authorised persons may undertake inspections of premises and vehicles being used for the sale and distribution of solid fuel as well as collect samples. A local authority may bring a prosecution under section 11 of the Air Pollution Act 1987 for breaches of the Regulations. The maximum penalty for breaches of the Regulations is a fine of €5,000 and/or imprisonment for up to six months on summary conviction.