One of two letters seeking the end of the immunity of Bord na Mona's operations from the Local Government (Water Pollution) Acts.
Mr Brendan Smith, TD
Minister for Agriculture, Fisheries,and Food
Agriculture House, Kildare St. Dublin 2
Re: Bord na Mona immunity from Water Pollution Acts
We are writing to you to request you to amend the Turf Development Act 1945.
Section 27 of this Act gives immunity to Bord na Mona's operations from the Local Government (Water Pollution) Acts. The Minister is only required to take such measures to protect the environment if taking ‘such precautions and making such provisions will not cause substantial detriment to the works or substantial hindrance to, or substantial increase to the cost of, the works'.
Since this Act was drafted, scientific knowledge has shown that drainage of peat causes
• the release of nutrients such as nitrates and phosphates (as well as heavy metals) which can lead to eutrophication and drinking water parameter exceedences
• high levels of organic colour which can cause acidification and can react with chlorine to produce carcinogenic trihalomethanes, identified by the EPA as the major threat in 55 public drinking water supplies
• sediment transport which can damage to aquatic organisms through the clogging of gills and the deposition of fine peat silt on spawning beds as well as increased turbidity which can result in reduced photosynthesis restricting vegetative growth
• reduction of water storage capacity in affected catchments
• emissions of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere
Many of the receiving waters affected by Bord na Mona's extraction are in waterbodies that are used for public water supplies and which, with the species they support, are protected under European legislation.
We were alerted to this anomaly in the law during our current ongoing investigation into the widespread exempt and unauthorised extraction of peat through a 2004 research paper published in Biology And Environment: Proceedings Of The Royal Irish Academy, Vol. 104b, No. 3, 17/32 (2004) entitled ‘Freshwater Fish Conservation In The Irish Republic: A Review Of Pressures And Legislation Impacting On Conservation Efforts' by Mike Fitzsimons and Fran Igoe. We attach this paper.
There can be no doubt whatsoever that this Section of the Turf Act infringes European environmental legislation. The European Commission has expressed concern that Ireland's national laws are maintaining a system of parallel legislation that undermines the implementation of the Water Framework Directive and we would suggest this Section of the Turf Act 1945 is just such a case.
We would be grateful for you assurance that the matter will be addressed without delay or the necessity of further recourse on our part.
FIE has begun a campaign to end the unauthorised extraction of peat which is now taking place on a vast scale covering thousands of hectares. With no records of the amount of peat extracted in any County, Ireland can not meet its legal obligation to ensure that before development consent is given projects likely to have significant effects on the environment be made subject to a requirement for development consent and an assessment with regard to their effect as recently required by the European Court of Justice. [C215/06, 49].
The peat is going not to retail garden centres which are sensitive to public campaigns but to the horticultural trade in the South East of England, Holland, South America - described by our Minster for Trade as an ‘environmentally friendly product.'
FIE has joined with An Taisce, the National Trust and the Irish Peatland Conservation Council [IPCC] to protest against the grant of planning permission for a 100MW peat and mixed fuel power plant.
An Taisce and the IPCC have appealed the decision to An Bord Pleanala while FIE has raised concerns with the Minister for Natural Resources Eamon Ryan that the decision is stated to be on the basis of government policy when we had thought government policy was opposed to new peat-fired generating capacity.
FIE has also queried the European Commission to determine their position and if they have been notified about this proposal and its potential impact on the National Allocations Program for Ireland's carbon emissions.
According to the EPA, more than 23 million tons of carbon were lost in the 10 years from 1990 - 2000 from peat extraction for combustion in Ireland - and that's without considering the impact on the environment through burning a fossil fuel more polluting than coal
In County Mayo only 29% of the original peatlands remain.
Read the joint Press Release.
Mayo County Council's grant of permission for a 100MW peat and mixed fuel power plant has been questioned by An Bord Pleanala. They have asked the developers to justify the proposed use of 400,000 tons of peat annually given that the ‘proposal might be contrary to national policy to reduce power generation from peat as a fuel source'.
In a request for further information the developers have been asked to ‘consider and advise whether the proposed development can be operated using biomass and coal as fuel sources only.'
Meanwhile EU Environment Commissioner Stavros Dimas said the conservation status of Irish peatlands is "particularly alarming" and that peat ‘does not represent a renewable resource or biomass, as confirmed by the guidelines of the International Panel on Climate Change.'
Irish environmental NGOs said that in view of the concerns being expressed by the planning appeals board and the European Commissioner, the National Climate Change Strategy should be revised ‘without delay' to end the use of peat as a fuel.