Maria Walsh votes ‘with conscience’ in bid to block EU gas projects

Published by Niall Sargent on

February 12th, 2020

Fine Gael MEP Maria Walsh broke party lines this morning and voted with her “conscience” in favour of a motion that would have blocked the EU’s new priority energy list that includes over 50 new fossil fuel projects.

The European Parliament ultimately voted down the motion to veto the Projects of Common Interest (PCI) list that includes dozens of gas schemes – including the Shannon LNG project – that critics say are incompatible with the bloc’s climate ambitions.

The Shannon LNG project has been criticised by scientists, activists and even Hollywood star Mark Ruffalo over the high likelihood that the project will see Ireland become a key entry point for US fracked gas into the EU.

Inclusion on the list gives large-scale energy projects access to a streamlined planning and permitting process, as well as making them eligible for access to multi-billion euro funding.

The motion was tabled by 100 MEPs, including Clare Daly and Mick Wallace, and supported by the Greens/European Free Alliance and the European United Left – Nordic Green Left grouping that combined include the two Green Party MEPs, Sinn Fein’s Matt Carthy and independent Luke ‘Ming’ Flanagan.

The political groupings that include Fianna Fail and Fine Gael MEPs voted against the motion, however, Ms Walsh broke party lines as one of only three MEPs in the European People’s Party to vote in favour of the motion.

Speaking to The Green News this afternoon, Ms Walsh said that she supported the objection to the PCI list as she is opposed to fracking as it is “bad for the environment and public health”.

“In relation to public health, I was alarmed to read the documented negative health impacts, particularly those on pregnancy and birth outcomes,” she said.

The impact that fracking has on our environment means that its use is “something I cannot condone”, she said, thanking people who have contacted her with their concerns recently.

“I will continue to listen to my constituents and my own conscience on all issues voted on in the European Parliament. In the midst of a climate emergency, I firmly believe we need to be looking through all issues with an environmental lens,” Ms Walsh added.

Grace O’Sullivan at Environmental Pillar hustings Photo: Niall Sargent

‘Nonsense’ to put money into gas

A recent analysis by energy consultants Artelys found that gas projects on the PCI list, including Shannon LNG, are “unnecessary” as existing EU gas infrastructure is “sufficiently capable of meeting a variety of future gas demand scenarios” even in the event of extreme supply disruption.

The report, commissioned by the European Climate Foundation, found that the EU risks a potential over-investment of tens of billions in the 32 gas projects on the PCI list that will cost €29 billion to roll out in full.

A recent report by Global Energy Monitor found that there is €117 billion worth of new fossil gas infrastructure planned across Europe. This would increase Europe’s import capacity of natural gas by 30 per cent, adding to significant overcapacity today, the report found.

The Green Party’s Grace O’Sullivan, who alongside her party colleague Ciarán Cuffe voted in favour of the motion today, said that it makes no sense for the EU to spend more public money on fossil fuel investment when there are sustainable alternatives available.

“Now is the time for Europe to step up to the mark on every level and follow through on the Green Deal commitments to invest in energy efficiency and renewables,” added Ms O’Sullivan, a long-time opponent of the proposed Shannon LNG terminal.

“We can’t continue with a hypocritical stance where, as a country, we ban onshore fracking, while at the same time we are importing filthy fracked gas,” she added.  “The EU must cancel these projects and start funding energy projects that are in step with the global climate crisis.”

Last month, the European Parliament’s Energy Committee also voted down a motion brought by Green MEP Marie Toussaint and co-signed by Mr Cuffe that called for the rejection of the entire list and a rapid revision of the regulation underpinning the PCI process.

In an email sent yesterday to all MEPs, the Vice-Chair of the Committee, Zdzisław Krasnodebski, urged his colleagues to reject the motion as keeping infrastructure for the “transition fuel” on the list will ensure a “cost-efficient transition without a lock-in effect”.

“Natural gas will deliver low-emission solutions for economies and ensure that costs of the transition will be kept in checks,” the Polish MEP said in the email seen by The Green News.

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Niall Sargent

Niall is the Editor of The Green News. He is a multimedia journalist, with an MA in Investigative Journalism from City University, London