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Environmental Justice | ECESR Files Lawsuit to Stop the Use of Coal in the Cement Industry

Plans by cement companies to use coal as an energy source is a flagrant aggression on the health and lives of Egyptians. They began to be passed with governmental backing since the term of the ousted president Mohamed Morsi and have escalated dramatically under the current government. With the exception of the Environment Ministry, the government put all its weight behind a media campaign aiming to promote coal as an alternative source of energy. This was in light of dwindling supplies of natural gas and petroleum derivatives, resulting from the policies of previous government, which squandered Egypt’s resources for many years. Support by the Egyptian government culminated in a seminar under the title of “Coal: A New Chapter for Industry and Electricity in Egypt,” organized by the ministries of petroleum and electricity, in cooperation with the Federation of Egyptian Industries (the most important entity representing the interests of businessmen in the country).

Participants in the seminar promoted the importance of resorting to the use of coal as an alternative energy sources, under the of lack of alternatives for the sources currently in use. This was in addition to deliberately minimizing environmental and health implications of the use of coal, by pointing to the existence of modern technology, which could mitigate the effects.

put all its weight behind a media campaign aiming to promote coal as an alternative source of energy

Participants in the seminar promoted the importance of resorting to the use of coal as an alternative energy sources, under the of lack of alternatives for the sources currently in use. This was in addition to deliberately minimizing environmental and health implications of the use of coal, by pointing to the existence of modern technology, which could mitigate the effects.

Cement Manufacturers Claims of lack of other alternatives besides Coal, or the availability of technologies that reduce its dangerous effects, are completely false

It is worth noting that such claims were exposed as being false by a member of the government, namely the Minister of Environment. In her statements, the minister emphasized the findings of studies conducted by various legal and research centers, which concurred on the following. First, the premise of lack of alternatives, other than coal, to the dwindling energy sources was false. Some of those sources, which are actually used to power cement factories in other countries and even inside Egypt, are used tires, rice straw, and garbage. They produce much less polluting emissions than coal, in addition to reducing the negative environmental impact of disposing of such materials by other means. Second, the minister’s statements maintained the conclusions of various studies concerning the false claims about the availability of modern technology capable of reducing the negative effects of coal. While such technology will only be available in 15 years and assuming it will be actually used in Egypt, it would lead to multiplying the cost of cement production by two and a half times. Judging by the history of cement factories’ non-compliance with various environmental regulations, the expectations that they would use such expensive technology (when it is available) is a sort of wishful thinking. This is especially true knowing the executive authorities’ actual collusion with businessmen, in general, and cement manufacturers (who are mostly foreigners), in particular.

Based on this situation, the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR) petitioned the responsible executive authorities, through official communications, requesting that a decision be issued to prohibit the import of coal for energy production, whether for cement factories or other purposes. These authorities are responsible for issuing the decision, in the context of their legal responsibility to protect the health and lives of citizens and conserve the environment. Given that the authorities did not respond to the request, ECESR decided to seek the administrative courts, as the last recourse to confront this assault on the lives of Egyptians. ECESR lawyers filed lawsuit No.31731 of Judicial Year 68 at the Administrative Court against:

the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, the Minister of Trade and Industry,
the Minister of Petroleum, the Minister of Electricity, the Minister of State for Environmental Affairs,
and the Chairman of the Egyptian Environmental Affairs Agency,

each in their own capacity, contesting their negative decision to abstain from issuing a decision to prohibit the import of coal and its use as a source of fuel.

In the lawsuit, ECESR described the environmental impacts of such use and the repercussions of the health of citizens, and refuted allegations about the need to resort to coal as an alternative

In the lawsuit, ECESR lawyers explained the circumstances of the government’s support of the use of coal by cement producers in Egypt. They described the environmental impacts of such use and the repercussions of the health of citizens, listing the various diseases, which arose or were aggravated due to the use of coal based on the experience of other countries. The Center’s lawyers indicated that polluting incidents were actually registered due to operations related to loading and transporting coal in Egypt. They also refuted allegations about the need to resort to coal as an alternative source and the claims that the environmental impact could be controlled.

To contest the negative decision, ECESR lawyers based their claim on the violation of the negative decision of the newly reformed constitution in articles 18, 45, 46, 78, 79, 93, and 99, and the violation of the Environment Law No.4 of 1994, in addition to contravening international conventions and covenants ratified by Egypt, which have become binding, namely the International Covenant on Economic Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR), the United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (FCCC), the Kyoto Protocol linked to the previous convention, and the Vienna Convention for the Protection of the Ozone Layer. The lawyers also based their appeal of the negative decision for the defects of “cause,” deceptive intent, and perversion of power.

The Center’s lawyers asked the court, first, to accept the appeal; second, to stop the implementation of the negative decision in an urgent manner, with what it entails of an immediate stop to the import of fuel for use as an energy source; and, third, to rule on repealing the contested decision and the consequent implications, mainly any governmental decision allowing coal imports or licences issued by the government in this regard.

While ECESR has full confidence in the Egyptian administrative courts, which have always been supportive of the rights of Egyptians in the face of continuous violations throughout the past years, it repeats its exhortation about the need to amend the policies of the state, which remains clearly biased towards the business community, working in collusion to achieve their interests. This does not merely occur at the expense of the great majority of citizens. It puts their lives, safety, and the future of their children at risk and amounts to a continuing crime, sustained without interruption, since the era of the deposed former president Hosni Mubarak. This is despite the fact that one of the goals of the January 25 Revolution, which toppled him, was to put an end to the aggressive policies of successive governments, leading to their impoverishment and squandering their rights, especially their right to life.