Finally, it happened: from now on, coal dust is considered a pollutant. Russian Prime Minister Mikhail Mishustin has signed a decree on state regulation that provides for the introduction of fees for the emission of coal dust into the atmosphere.
Since May last year there has been talking about a new position in the list of pollutants – namely, coal dust. However, the previous government was very reluctant to respond to the statements of the Ministry of Natural Resources and Environment. It is no accident that some changes in the effective legislation have materialized eventually. The fact is that the dust that rises during the handling of opencast coal is extremely harmful for almost any living thing (and even not “living”). According to experts, it belongs to Hazard Class III. When being inhaled, coal dust causes respiratory diseases in humans, and its settling on the seabed leads to the extinction of marine animals. Therefore, according to regulations, there should be sanitary protection zones around the ports up to 500 meters long. Residential buildings, kindergartens, schools, etc. cannot be located in these areas. Meanwhile, the executives of sea transshipment points seem not to bother themselves about any current sanitary norms.
Port Vostochnye Vorota -- Primorsky Plant was one of the first to stop its operations. As early as 2017, it became known how this stevedoring company makes the lives of local residents unbearable. Then, during special television program and The Direct Line with Vladimir Putin televised question-time show, people complained about the terrible environmental conditions because of coal dust. However, until last year, nothing changed. Only at the beginning of 2019, Oleg Kozhemyako, the governor of Primorsky (Maritime) territory, and Igor Tkachev, Deputy Prosecutor General of the Russian Federation, decided to inspect the plant. It was accused of non-compliance with environmental regulations and untreated wastewater discharge into the Sea of Japan.
After a resouding scandal, Kozhemyako ordered all stevedoring companies to provide plans and roadmaps for a changeover to closed transshipment. The management of Port Vostochnye Vorota - Primorsky Plant was not in a hurry to provide the requested documentation. Finally, in December 2019, the prosecutor of a port city of Nakhodka in the Primorsky territory got a court order to halt the plant’s operations. At present, in order to start the port operation again, the company needs to build retaining walls, coordinate its activities with Federal Agency For Fishery in the water protection zone and set the standards for permissible emissions.
Port Vera, the stevedoring plant in the Primorsky territory that has already had the issues with dust, is likely to be next to fall within the new law. In December 2019, the last high-profile inspection of the company was carried out. The work of the coal terminal was examined by the Prosecutor's Office, the Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing (Rospotrebnadzor) and Federal Agency For Fishery. At that time, the port was caught doing the open coal transshipment, due to which a huge black cloud formed over the areas adjoining the plant. The inspection also showed that contrary to numerous promises, no protective measures had been taken in the bay, and the operations did not comply with the regulations passed by the State Environmental Expertise. The plant was fined for violating environmental regulations. However, this has not solved the problem. Despite the statements about construction of closed installations and purchase of protective screens, the terminal in the Bezzashchitnaya Bay operates without dust protection technologies, and coal transshipment is held in "natural" conditions: coal heaps are accumulated right on the shore that does not have specialized facilities.
These are only a few out of dozens of cases of encroachments on environmental regulations during open coal transshipment. As of today, a total of 67 ports are included in the Russian Maritime Register of Shipping. In 2016, total cargo turnover was 721.9 million tonnes. Coal accounts for 18% of all cargo. Moreover, not every transshipment point complies with all environmental standards. From now on, each violator will be obliged to pay a fine for environmental pollution with coal dust in the amount of 61 rubles per tonne. For other pollutants, the payment rates for negative impact on the environment have already climbed 8%. Therefore, the amendments to the current laws are likely to hit the stevedores in the pocket. However, only if supervising agencies carry out the checks rigorously.