The ban on the marketing, sale and distribution of bituminous coal, or ‘the smoky coal ban’ as it is commonly known, was first introduced in Dublin in 1990, and subsequently extended to our major cities. Following a public consultation process, it was further extended in 2012, and now applies in 26 urban areas nationwide. The ban has proved very effective in reducing particulate matter and sulphur dioxide levels and has had the effect of significantly improving public health. Research indicates, for example, that the ban has resulted in over 350 fewer annual deaths in Dublin alone.
Scientific understanding has evolved in the intervening years, however, and numerous studies now indicate that air pollution has impacts on human health at lower levels than was previously understood. Consequently, it is necessary to continue to strengthen policy to enhance air quality for the protection of people’s health and the environment.
Recent monitoring has also revealed that the air quality in some of our smaller towns in Winter is worse than that in larger towns where the ban is in place. Given the clear human health benefits, I am committed to extending the ban nationwide. This process necessarily involves discussion and consultation with a wide number of stakeholders, including with the European Commission, relevant Government Departments and Agencies, the residential fuel industry, and the general public. Discussions with many of these stakeholders on issues that may arise in connection with the proposed nationwide ban are underway. My next step will be to introduce the specific legal measures to give effect to the ban over a twelve month period commencing in Autumn 2018. This period of 12 months lead-in time will allow both the industry and householders to 'wash through' existing stock in preparation for the full ban on the marketing, sale, distribution and burning of bituminous coal coming into effect throughout the State from Autumn 2019.
Where householders continue to rely on solid fuel, there is now a range of innovative low smoke solid fuel products, including low smoke coal products, available on the market. Low smoke solid fuel is cleaner and more energy efficient. It can deliver improved air quality as well as human health benefits.
In relation to cost, the Sustainable Energy Authority of Ireland has published figures comparing the respective costs of domestic fuels. These are available online at https://www.seai.ie/resources/publications/Domestic-Fuel-Cost-Comparison-October-2017.pdf and show that while low smoke fuels are typically more expensive to buy on a weight-by-weight basis, they have a higher heat output than coal or lignite nuggets. Low smoke fuels, therefore, represent good value for money.