At a time of political instability and energy shortages, the Egyptian government turned to introducing imported coal as an energy source for the cement industry, due to insufficient natural gas supplies. Business tycoons of the cement industry claimed high losses, pushing to advance the coal agenda, when the industry enjoys a rather high profit margin and benefits from subsidised electricity and a strong lobbying power (1). Despite disapproval from civil society, and the industry's track record of causing high pollution, in April 2014 an interim cabinet decision approved the combustion of coal in cement plants in absence of an elected parliament (2,3). Environmental and human rights groups (most outspokenly the grassroots movement Egyptians Against Coal, the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights (ECESR), as well as the previous Minister of Environment Laila Eskandar) have been mobilizing against this backward decision on legal, environmental and health premises (4, 3).
Although the new government's rhetoric assures that strict environmental standards are in place, downplaying environmental and health risks with talk about usage of "clean coal" technologies (5), there are actual and potential environmental injustices committed against the health of millions of citizens living in proximity to these plants clustered in different regions of the country, as well as those living in areas where coal is being transported in open trucks (6, 1). The poorest urban citizens are condemned to reside near those power plants emitting high levels of pollution, risking their health while business elite continue to benefit from cheaper, dirtier energy (2, 6). EJOs and civil society organizations also engaged in dialogues with the European Bank of Reconstruction and Development, urging it to refrain from funding coal use projects, to no avail (4). Cement industries started using coal in August, 2014 (7, 5) and coal projects continue, where the Minister of Electricity had recently announced projects to build a coal-powered thermal power plant (8). Strong public health and environmental concerns have been overlooked and muffled. Emissions of sulfur dioxide (SO2), nitrogen oxides (NOX) and Mercury will likely translate into acid rain and smog formations, respiratory illnesses from particles, and transmission of a neurotoxin to foetuses respectively (9).(See less)