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Climate minister: Complex permit approval for new plant takes six months

Minister of Climate Kristen Michal (Reform) told "AK" on Friday that the process of acquiring a complex permit from the ministry will take at least six months, even though the necessary, updated environmental impact assessment (EIA) could be signed soon.

The necessary, updated environmental impact assessment (EIA), which was called into question by the Estonian Supreme Court and was the rationale to revoke the building permit will be signed soon, Climate Minister Kristen Michal (Reform) said. However, the minister continued, Eesti Energia will also have to apply to the Ministry of Climate for a thorough authorization for the plant – complex permit – which will take at least six months to process.

"This plant's emissions are serious. If you look into the future, they will be 10 percent of Estonia's emissions by 2035. Our preliminary analysis suggests that it could fit within the necessary limits for a certain period of time, but in the future, not anymore. In our opinion, this authorization could be issued with certain time limits," Michal said.

However, only the first phase of operations would process oil shale into oil. The long-term goal is to chemically process plastic waste and tire residues, which will soon no longer be permitted to be incinerated in Estonia (and elsewhere in the EU) in the future.

Eesti Energia CEO Andrus Dureiko told "AK" that this long-term perspective is not sufficiently discussed in the media. "The other side of the coin is that we aim for a circular economy in the long run, and this has received insufficient attention. We will reduce the use of oil shale and then tackle waste, that is, plastic waste and tire residues," Dureiko told "AK" of Friday.

Oil shale being loaded onto trucks in the Kiviõli Quarry. Source: Rene Kundla/ERR

"There should be no one left at the plant's building site in two months from now, and expecting them to return sooner than a year and a half is naïve," former Narva Mayor Katri Raik (SDE) wrote in her social media post. "The environmental issue is serious and this green turn is likely to become the new sharpest conflict between political parties."

Raik said that stopping the construction will have a negative impact on the employment in the region: "If the oil plant does not work, there is no need to build a plant for processing tires into pellets and no need to mine oil shale on a large scale."

The coalition political parties are not unanimous on the construction of the oil plant. Prime Minister Kaja Kallas (Reform) said that this issue has not been discussed in the government, but she admits that huge sums have already been spent on the construction.

"I have never been a supporter of this plant, but there must be obviously some continuity between the governments. Once decisions have been made, and investments have been made, is it so easy to undo them?" Kallas said.

Eesti 200 party supports the construction of the plant.

"I think that as long as the whole world uses oil, gas and other fossil fuels, we can safely use our local fuel as well," Tarmo Tamm (Eesti 200) said. "When the conditions are such that it is no longer profitable, then it is time to end it."

Social Democrat leader Lauri Läänemets fears the legal wrangling over the construction could last forever.

"If you reapply and get a new permit, it could go to court again, the plant would again be idled for an indefinite period of time. I think this issue is significantly more complicated. We should discuss the overall vision of Ida-Viru County in the government. I believe that the policy of the Estonian state in Ida-Viru County should be such that we free the jobs from the oil shale trap," Läänemets said.

Former Prime Minister Jüri Ratas (Center), during whose premiership the plant was planned, is convinced that construction should continue.

"It is necessary to make adjustments to the environmental impact assessment, but this plant must definitely be completed. It is economically important for Estonia, 100 percent of our exports come from there. It is also important that we reduce the share of oil shale in our ecological footprint: it is in any case oil shale enrichment, if we compare it to electricity production and oil shale production. And thirdly, these are jobs," said the former chair of the Center Party and deputy speaker of the Riigikogu

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Editor: Kristina Kersa

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