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ENVIRONMENT

French city to fine drivers who leave engines running

In an effort to cut air pollution, one French local authority has announced that it will begin levying fines on drivers who leave their engines running while parked.

French city to fine drivers who leave engines running
(Photo: Philippe Merle / AFP)

In an effort to reduce traffic pollution, Nancy, in the Meuthe-et-Moselle département of eastern France, has issued a decree stating that private motorists who keep their vehicle’s engines running while they are parked may be liable for a €135 fine.

“Too often, the engines of vehicles parked or out of traffic are left running for long minutes, unnecessarily releasing gases and particles, while the air quality in the city is strongly impacted by car and road traffic,” the mairie said in a statement.

Nancy’s pollution busting decree strengthens an established but often-ignored law.

France’s Highway Code points to a 1963 decree from the Ministre des Travaux Publics et des Transports, that states: “Motor vehicles must not emit smoke, toxic, corrosive or odorous gases, under conditions likely to inconvenience the public or compromise public health and safety.”

The penalty – enforceable anywhere in France – is a fine of €135, which may be reduced or increased depending on the time it takes any offender to pay-up.

The city’s deputy mayor Bertrand Masson, told Franceinfo that fines would not be implemented immediately: “The objective is not to penalise but to remind everyone of their individual responsibility,” he said.

“We are in a period of education. It is first of all to make people aware of the problem, not to penalise them.”

According to the National Agency for Health Security, air pollution is responsible for more than 400,000 premature deaths in Europe each year, including 48,000 in France.

This measure does not apply to emergency vehicles, public service agents performing urgent duties, or refrigerated trucks transporting foodstuffs. 

The French government came in for criticism earlier in the summer when a video was released online showing cars waiting to pick up ministers after a meeting at the Elysée – all with their engines running while parked.

The images were particularly embarrassing for the government as it had just launched a strategy to cut energy use.

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ENVIRONMENT

Explained: The ‘risky project’ of a hydrogen pipeline between France and Spain

A planned underwater hydrogen pipeline connecting Barcelona and Marseille is a risky project, but one that is key for the European Union's energy independence.

Explained: The 'risky project' of a hydrogen pipeline between France and Spain

Here’s what we know about the joint initiative by Madrid, Lisbon and Paris, which will be discussed on Friday on the sidelines of a summit of southern European Union nations in Spain:

What is it?

Dubbed “H2Med” or “BarMar” (from Barcelona and Marseille), the pipeline will transport green hydrogen, between Spain, France and the rest of Europe.

Green hydrogen is made from water via electrolysis and with renewable energy.

Announced at an EU summit in October, the pipeline offers an alternative to the defunct 2003 MidCat pipeline project.

Intended to carry gas across the Pyrenees from Spain to France, it was eventually abandoned over profitability issues and objections from Paris and environmentalists.

What are its goals?

The pipeline aims to boost the decarbonisation of European industry, giving it access to clean energy on a large scale, which Spain and Portugal hope to produce.

The two neighbours aim to become world leaders in green hydrogen thanks to their numerous wind and solar power farms.

France, Portugal and Spain initially said in October the pipeline aimed to reduce Europe’s dependence on Russian energy by improving gas interconnections between the Iberian Peninsula and its neighbours.

Spain and Portugal account for 40 percent of Europe’s capacity to turn liquefied natural gas (LNG) that arrives in tankers back into gas form, but they are poorly connected to the rest of Europe.

But since the three nations want EU funds to mainly cover the project, the pipeline will need to be dedicated to hydrogen, Madrid and Paris have stressed.

Why Barcelona and Marseille?

According to the project’s backers, it is “the most direct and efficient way of linking the peninsula with central Europe”.

Barcelona is an energy hub in Spain, and according to Jose Ignacio Linares, a professor at Madrid’s Pontificia Comillas University, it “has one of the largest re-gasification plants in Europe”.

Marseille is also a key point in the French network and a gateway to the Rhone Valley, northern Italy and Germany — industrial regions that could become big consumers of green hydrogen.

What route will it take?

The route has not yet been decided, but “the most logical” option would be to run close to the shore to avoid deep waters, Linares told AFP.

If that’s the case, H2Med would extend some 450 kilometres.

When will it be ready?

French Energy Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher told Spain’s El Pais daily the pipeline could come online in 2030, while her Spanish counterpart Teresa Ribera said it could enter service in “five, six or seven years”.

How much will it cost?

The cost of the project has not been revealed. But the European Hydrogen Backbone (EHB), that groups European energy pipeline operators, estimates a two-billion-euro price tag.

What are the obstacles?

“An offshore hydrogen pipeline at this depth and distance has never been done before,” said Gonzalo Escribano, an energy expert at Madrid’s Real Instituto Elcano think tank.

The innovative project faces certain technical challenges.

One of the main problems is that hydrogen is made up of small molecules which can escape through the joints and cause corrosion, said Linares, an engineer by training.

But such problems could be overcome by “installing a membrane inside (the pipeline), a kind of plastic that prevents the hydrogen from escaping,” he said.

What’s the outlook?

The biggest risk is its economic viability, experts say.

“It is not clear when the green hydrogen market is going to take off and whether Spain will be in a position to produce enough to export it,” said Escribano.

But Linares said its construction would take so long “that we can’t afford to wait”.

“If we do, we’ll end up with a huge volume of hydrogen that we won’t be able to export.”

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