Center MP on environment minister role: Let's see what the day brings

Erki Savisaar.
Erki Savisaar. Source: Siim Lõvi /ERR

Center Party MP and Riigikogu finance committee chair Erki Savisaar would not answer directly the question on whether rumors he would replace Tõnis Mölder (Center) as environment minister during his appearance on ETV morning show 'Terevisioon'.

Mölder's resignation, no reason given, was announced Tuesday evening and he is set to make a statement at 11.00 a.m. Estonian time.

While presenter Liisu Lass directly posed the question around eight times, Savisaar did not directly answer it. He did, however, expound at length on a variety of environment-related matters in the remainder of the "Terevisioon" interview, which follows.

Your name has been mentioned as a possible candidate for the new ministerial position. Is there any truth behind it?

I can't say that right now. I actually came on here to talk about the state budget. The state budget's second reading is to take place at the Riigikogu today, and as finance committee chair, I have to talk on how the debate went in the preparations for the bill's second reading, and answer MPs' questions when they come up.

Has the possibility of taking up the post of Minister for the Environment been proposed to you?

There has been plenty of speculation over the course of time, but so far it has all turned out to be wrong.

It wasn't suggested to you?

A lot of topics have been under discussion, but I really can't say what kind of political statement is going to be made today at 12 o'clock (the statement from Tõnis Mölder actually takes place at 11 a.m. - ed.) by Tõnis Mölder and Jüri Ratas.

Has [Center leader] Jüri Ratas called you to make an offer, and would you be ready to take up the environment minister post?

I talk to Jüri Ratas daily.

Has Jüri Ratas made you an offer like this? I understand your desire to spin things, but this is still a concrete issue.

I communicate with all members of the party group every day, including Jüri Ratas. I can't say what is inside the statement that everyone has been invited to listen to.

Will you be there at 11 o'clock [at Center Party HQ]?

I can't say yet. The day will reveal what it will.

Will you still in the Riigikogu next week, or will you be in the cabinet by then [government ministers do not sit at the Riigikogu – ed.]

Who knows. Estonian life is very turbulent, and anything can happen.

Why is there a need to do the type of maneuvering by the Center Party right now, that the environment minister has said is happening?

I can't say if this kind of maneuvering will be carried out.

There is going to be a statement about it this morning.

If you say so. I don't have such information.

In any case, Erki Savisaar, will you be the next Minister of the Environment? Are you ready to take this post if the Prime Minister makes you such an offer? I'm assuming you've actually talked about it before.

Up to February of this year, I had been chair of the Riigikogu's environment committee and had been dealing thoroughly with environmental issues as a consequence. I was also a member of the environment committee on Tallinn city government's previous composition. A lot has been done on environmental issues.

Would you be prepared to take the role up yourself, if you are offered it?

I would have to consider it then.

Let's talk about environmental issues, then.  These are very much in focus given that winter is coming and energy prices are very high. How do you think Estonia should meet its energy needs? There has been a lot of talk about the green revolution, but how can we still ensure that we have our own sources of energy, and that prices do not go through the roof?

This is not directly an environmental issue now. It is an energy issue, and perhaps more of an economic issue. However, the Center Party is clearly of the view that Estonia must maintain its energy security, and in order for us to have as much energy as we need at any given time, wind and solar energy alone is not sufficient; we also need managed capacities.

Narva has around 1,000 MW capacity at the moment, maybe a little more, but the Ministry of Economic Affairs has found that a thousand is sufficient. Neither will these power plants be shut down before we have at least the same amount of alternate, controlled capacity.

As to the plan Eesti Energia has come up with to stop producing electricity from oil shale by 2030, do you think it is reasonable to do so so soon?

This is more due to this coalition agreement than to Eesti Energia's own proposals. But it is true that by 2035 these older oil shale electricity plants will be so depreciated that they simply won't be usable any more. But this does not mean that, for example, they could not be used for by-products of the oil shale chemicals industry, and this is likely to be the case. In other words, the production of shale oil will continue, and there will be electricity left over from it, among other things, but the oil shale chemical industry will have to be further developed.

You have already said that Estonia should have its own energy production capacities. Could one of these capacities be a nuclear power plant?

This is definitely an alternative worth considering. If we look around at what is being used in the vicinity, it is hydroelectric stations which Estonia simply do not have natural conditions for. We could also discuss, for example, the possibility of geothermal power stations, a kind of 'geothermal heating on steroids', that could be utilized. There are gas generators that are being set up a lot in Germany, for example and it is really nuclear power.

As a person who is familiar with environmental issues, you have probably also watched what is happening in connection with the Estonian forest and the discussions on this topic. What is your estimate of how much deforestation should be carried out in Estonia then, more, or less, than now?

I can't state this in specific cubic meters. I believe that we have enough forest experts to be able to assess what a reasonable volume would be, so that the forest would be managed sustainably in the future.

How should the Estonian forest be valued?

The forest could certainly be valued more than we do today. Today, the main source of exports is simply to extract from the forest in the form of a cylindrical log, or to convert that into wood pellets. I think we can do more. In this respect, for example, [Kunda-based aspen pulp mill] Estonian Cell, which makes raw material for the paper industry, is definitely a very good solution. In Imavere there is also has a very interesting pulp mill, which adds significantly more value to wood. And we could use these types of opportunities more in Estonia, so that more value would remain in Estonia, not get given away at a knock-down price.

As such, would you support the construction of such a wood refinery (which could be used to extract chemicals from woody biomass – ed.) in your potential role as environment minister?

Without a doubt. This would serve to make our already valuable forest, even more valuable. We would get more money into the economy, but in order to earn the same income that we earn in forestry today, we would need to fell much less.

One topic which has been covered in the media in the past week and probably concerns virtually everyone who goes to a store, is related to packaging. Tõnis Mölder is somewhat heading up the plan here, whereby all disposable packaging that a person has to buy from a hot food counter should cost 50 cents. What do you make of that plan? Would it sit well with you and would you go ahead with it?

This is a very interesting idea, the result of the European side transposing certain directives. 

There is now a need to delve a little into the issue which is really there in the directive. I do not understand the problems of those countries in southern Europe, where plastics are really a major problem. But we have no problems on that scale in Estonia. I would rather think about how better to recycle this disposable packaging, how to make it more environmentally friendly, rather than adding an out-there price tag to something, simply because it is disposable.

Would you impose more responsibility on the producer, than directly on the consumer?

I cannot say whether this responsibility should go more to the manufacturer, but there are certainly more solutions. For example, the [Eesti Energia] oil shale chemical plant which the Minister of the Environment laid the cornerstone for yesterday will allow for the recycling of plastics, once it is ready. So in this respect, Estonia is doing quite well with plastics recycling; we have the knowledge and we don't have to ban everything. Some things can be solved in different ways.

Erki Savisaar was talking to Liisu Lass on Wednesday's edition of "Terevisioon".


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Editor: Andrew Whyte

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