The gas pipeline saga

A few days ago we had news of the long-known conclusion from the European Commission that there will not be any EU funds for the Maltese government’s gas pipeline project.

Before any bright spark comes up with nationalist and jingoistic arguments, that ‘we are being picked on’ by the ‘bullies’ in Brussels, the EU will not be financing any fossil fuel based energy projects anywhere, whether coal, oil or natural gas. This final decision came about after the usual process leading to the approval of the EU’s budget, involving the Commission, national governments and the European Parliament.

Frankly, the EU’s refusal reflects badly on the Maltese government. The outcome of the EU’s energy policy and financing priorities is there for all to see. The EU and its member states’ international commitments mean that massive investments in fossil fuel-based energy projects are no longer acceptable.

Natural gas was considered a ‘transition fuel’ in the process of converting to renewable energy sources, since it is cleaner than oil when it comes to the emission of climate-altering gases such as carbon dioxide. But that was some twenty years ago.

The ship has now sailed. It is no longer acceptable to be locked into another twenty years of using fossil fuels as our main source of energy.

The story of energy policy in Malta is one of incompetence, mismanagement, of allegations of graft, corruption and of smoking guns. It is a story of the infamous ‘oil scandal’ and of changes in laws to favour the oil agents’ lobby during the Nationalist’s governments’ reign.

It is the story of Konrad Mizzi’s and Keith Schembri’s ‘brilliant’ idea to tie Malta for decades to an agreement with corrupt Azerbaijan, favouring the usual Maltese business families. Of course, both these Labour stars set up offshore trusts and structures to receive €5,000 a day in graft money. Joseph Muscat, allegedly, didn’t know anything of this stitch-up.

Back to the gas pipeline. Back in 1999, a Nationalist government turn down the Italian ENI offer for the construction of a natural gas pipeline, choosing instead the insane investment in dirty, climate-destroying heavy fuel oil. Creating tonnes of waste in the process and increasing Malta’s carbon emissions.

The Nationalists certainly kept some people happy, and these people probably kept the PN party machine well-oiled at the time. The switch to gas should have happened in 1999.

Today they fail to remind us of their disastrous anti-environmental policies – from their fossil-fuel thirsty energy policies to their policy of declaring two million square metres of previously ‘outside development zone’ as developable, to the joy of the usual suspects. Incompetent hypocrites.

Fast forward to 2014 when Konrad Mizzi, Keith Schembri and the likes of former Enemalta chief, now Infrastructure Malta chief, Frederick Azzopardi chose Azerbaijan as Malta’s energy partner, in a deal that stinks to high heavens. The pipeline project, was yet again abandoned. We all know who benefitted most from this: people who Labour used to define as ‘barunijiet’. The ‘barons’ won once again. After all this incompetence, Robert Abela’s government still thought they could forge ahead with their now obsolete gas pipeline project.

New energy minister Miriam Dalli has recently announced that any pipeline must be ‘hydrogen ready’. Her statement just confirms the incompetence of her own government. They had to wait for a refusal to smell the coffee.

While they roll out the rhetoric about climate change, it is really and truly business as usual.

They continue encouraging vehicle use, grab land from farmers for their crazy road expansion projects, again favouring the usual ‘barunijiet’, as the Mrieħel case clearly shows, and continue the now traditional and historic PLPN pandering to land speculators.

When it comes to renewable energy, Malta is as usual, late. In the energy sector government needs to invest heavily in community-based micro-renewable energy projects, from micro-wind turbines to solar energy.

Larger energy projects such as wave energy and offshore wind are also required. Reducing the overall use of energy is also crucial. There must be a real shift in taxation and industrial policy – both incentives and disincentives.

Polluters must pay, with proceeds going towards the now urgent transition to a cleaner, greener economy, based on energy efficiency and renewable energy.

Labour intensive, greener businesses should be rewarded. It is high time that the fossil fuel industry and its Maltese ‘barons’ are defeated.

Ralph Cassar
ADPD Secretary General
Published in The Maltatoday – Wednesday 13 January 2021