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July 11, 2013

Ukranian Coal Plant “Facelift” Actually Means More Pollution

Ukrainian coal plant
Burstyn Thermal Power Plant, photo courtesy NECU

The U.S. Trade and Development Agency (USTDA) exists to strengthen the economy by exporting U.S. goods and services for priority development projects in emerging economies. However, this mission may now include pushing to expand the capacity of an already outdated and deadly Ukrainian coal plant: the Burshtyn power station -- a move that is risky, unnecessary, and would allow the companies involved to skirt EU pollution requirements.

The first suspicious sign suggesting the riskiness of this retrofit is the list of companies in the USTDA’s request for proposals. Included are large corporations that have long profited by pushing dirty coal technology abroad, including Black & Veatch, which benefited from the taxpayer-funded Kuslie coal plant in South Africa, a project that was built despite local objections in an area that already exceeded South African limits for air pollution. Less familiar to American audiences is Burshtyn’s operator, DETK and its founder Rinat Akhmetov, which have long been plagued by allegations of corruption and ties to organized crime.

More troubling are the massive oversights in USTDA’s request for proposals, which indicate that the agency has failed to do even a basic examination of the Burshtyn power plant. Thankfully, the National Ecological Centre of Ukraine (NECU) has done the work for them by releasing a report on the project and the errors in USTDA’s analysis. USTDA claims that retrofitting four of the 12 units will reduce emissions. However, NECU shows that in the past five years, only seven units on average have operated at Burshtyn. The proposed retrofit will not clean up dirty units; it will bring units that are not currently operating back online, effectively raising pollution at what is already Ukraine’s dirtiest power station. That’s like adding more logs to a fire and saying the flame will get smaller -- it goes against all logic.

But that’s not all. USTDA maintains that the power generated at Burshtyn will go to the national grid, thus benefiting Ukrainians. This is flat out untrue. Burshtyn was disconnected from the national grid in 2002 to form the Burshtyn Energy Island, a separate grid that exists to export power to the EU nations of Hungary, Slovakia and Romania. Moreover, since the Burshtyn power station does not meet EU pollution limits, even though the energy island sends electricity to the EU, expanding the plant's capacity will effectively generate power for Europe while skirting EU safeguards. Local communities won’t even benefit from the generation, but their health will be sacrificed.

In addition to forcing Ukrainians to continue dealing with the documented deadly health impacts of Burshtyn, the proposal goes against the spirit of President Obama’s recent pledge to stop financing coal projects overseas with public funds as part of his climate action plan.

The report from NECU makes it very clear that Burshtyn is not the type of project USTDA should support with our taxpayer dollars. The question is: Will USTDA listen?

--Nicole Ghio, Sierra Club International 


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