The first piece of legislation in the new Government’s arsenal to de-carbonise the economy has been passed by the Dáil and Seanad.
The legislation establishes a €500 million fund for innovative climate action projects over the next decade.
The money has been re-directed from the National Oil Reserve, a levy of 2 cent a litre imposed for some years on fossil fuels.
Every year €50 million will be invested in initiatives that seek to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, increase the production of renewable energy, improve energy efficiency, and support projects and initiatives in regions and sectors affected by the transition to a low-carbon economy.
Minister for Climate Action Eamon Ryan steered the National Oil Reserves Agency (Amendment) and Provision of Central Treasury Services Bill through the Dáil and Seanad.
He said of the Bill that “this is the Government setting out a statement of intent for the next five to 10 years”.
The fund was “an opportunity for innovation and for every region of the State to come forward with ambitious climate action projects”.
A last minute amendment introduced in the Seanad brought the Bill back to the Dáil, which had passed it last week.
The amendment ensures money can be allocated to projects including the Bord na Móna peatlands rehabilitation scheme.
In the Dáil debate Fianna Fáil TD Barry Cowen, in his first contribution since he was sacked as minister for agriculture, welcomed the amendment but asked if it now meant that €20 million a year over the next four years would not now be taken from the public service obligation (PSO) for peatland improvements.
He said the just transition programme had to accommodate the areas most affected by actions to deliver climate action. Nowhere had been more affected by climate action decisions that Bord na Móna workers.
The Minister told him the funding of the bog rehabilitation through the PSO, “fell foul” of advice from the Attorney General and it would not be possible under EU law. But “the just transition approach will be developed for the entire midlands region,” affected by the move away from the use of peat.
Mr Ryan said a “call for applications will open as soon as possible” after August 1st when the Act is expected to come into effect.
Some projects have already been funded on interim basis including €10 million for the ESB’s charging network for electric cars; the local authority public lighting energy efficiency project (€17.5 million); hybrid rail cars for Irish Rail (€15 million) and €1.37 million to increase efficiency in the road haulage sector.
In the Seanad Fianna Fáil Senator Mary Fitzpatrick said she wanted the funds used for projects to address congestion as Dublin is "sixth most congested city in Europe," taking " an enormous toll" on people's lives.
Independent Senator Alice Mary Higgins warned that as companies left the oil and gas sector they would leave "massive" clean-up costs for the taxpayer.
Analysis from the US estimated that 250 firms might go broke there before the end of the year. “Just one of them could cost $40 million (€34.5 million) for a clean-up operation.”
Independent Michael Fitzmaurice said, "I worry that the Minister will cripple the people who do not have public transport and who have the small farms in the rural areas, with a massive €100 a tonne" charge.
Independent Danny Healy-Rae said he was “very disappointed, hurt and angry” that they were discussing a Bill “that will put a levy and more charges on farmers and people in rural Ireland”.
But the Minister insisted that “no additional burden is being put on anyone”.
This Bill is taking money already collected and “redirecting it specifically into the energy sector, which would most benefit rural Ireland, where these new businesses will be located”.