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EghtesadOnline: The new Iranian Parliament seemingly has no interest in working on government bills for controlling air pollution, an environmental expert says.

Speaking with IRNA, Rouhollah Baqeri added that the government has been pushing several bills expected to help curb air pollution, especially in Tehran. 

“However, since the Majlis has officially opened in late May, parliament members have been focused on questioning ministers over their conduct in the past seven years instead of doing anything meaningful,” he said.

“The presence of the 35-article Clean Air Act, drawn up by the Department of Environment and passed by the parliament in July 2017, and a bunch of other bills can be a benchmark for testing the MPs' attitude toward environmental issues.”

CAA was ratified by Majlis after gathering dust for over a year, but it is yet to be fully enacted and its implementation seems far-fetched.

Going into the act’s details, Baqeri said CAA discusses two aspects of air pollution, namely mobile and stationary sources of pollutants, offering solutions for each.

“Although there are numerous overt and covert pressures impeding the execution of the rule, no political or economic issue should undermine the importance of protecting the environment,” he said.

Baqeri noted that both lawmakers and executive branch should consider the fact that saving the environment is a topic beyond the present time and more pertinent to future generations.

“Such primary issues should be placed high on the agenda and all the factors directly or indirectly endangering the environment should be taken more seriously,” he said.

The present parliament is dominated by principlists while the previous legislature was chiefly composed of pro-reform figures. Although more closely allied with reformists, President Hassan Rouhani has announced that his administration will work with the new Majlis within the framework of the constitution.  



Tehran Municipality’s Role

The last time CAA was brought up as a concern was in December 2019 when a Tehran councilor blamed government officials and urban managers for the lack of traction in combating the persistently toxic air pollution that has blighted the city’s residents over the past several years.

Speaking at a Tehran City Council meeting at the time, Mohammad Alikhani slammed their incompetence and inefficiency for failing to give the city’s residents a breath of fresh air, stressing that air pollution has not occurred overnight and cannot be curbed overnight.  

“Curbing the problem requires professionalism and persistence. Before blaming the air pollution on Tehran Municipality, the distribution of duty among executive and legislative institutions should be considered,” the councilor said at the time. 

"All the organizations involved in monitoring and controlling air quality have failed to fulfill their responsibility in this regard."

Referring to CAA, the councilor said the act considers nine institutions responsible for controlling air pollution, namely the ministries of interior, oil, roads, energy, industries and health, along with DoE, the Traffic Police and the Institute of Standards and Industrial Research of Iran. 

DOE drew up the act based on an integrated approach to curb air pollution, which tasks the enlisted administrations with specific actions in line with the objective.

"Although Tehran Municipality is not even included in the list (of responsible institutions), it is always the first institution blamed for air pollution," he said.

Noting that TM is mainly tasked with managing public transportation, Alikhani said municipal bodies are not authorized to control the operation of industrial units, fuel quality, the increasing number of dilapidated motorcycles or the standards of domestically-produced vehicles.

While polluting vehicles are largely blamed for air pollution, Tehran Air Quality Control Company maintains that particulate matters, particularly PM2.5, constitute a large proportion of current atmospheric pollution and vehicles only have a meager 2% share in the capital's air pollution. 

"Industrial units generate a major part of pollutants and this is where TM has no power to interfere," Alikhani said. 

“Things will naturally go wrong when no one accepts their responsibilities. However, I don't mean to imply that TM has done its best."



Ineffective Remedies

To control the increasing volume of pollutants in the air, urban managers in the capital have devised several traffic rules each of which restrict commutation in some way.

Air Pollution Control and the so-called Traffic Scheme are two of the plans underway in the city.

As per the APC scheme, each vehicle can enter a "restricted zone" in central Tehran for free for a maximum of 20 days each season, or 80 days a year.

Spread over 88.5 square kilometers in central Tehran, the zone is bounded by Imam Ali Expressway to the east, Navvab Expressway and Chamran Highway to the west, Besat Expressway to the south and Hemmat Expressway to the north.

The more stringent “Traffic Scheme” in central Tehran is enforced in an area limited by Motahari Street in the north, Shariati Street in the east, Kargar (west) and Shoosh (south) where cars, except public transportation vehicles, are barred from entering the area from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

After the coronavirus outbreak in Iran, traffic schemes in Tehran were halted in late February on the government's order to discourage people from using the hazardous public transportation and cut the infection chain. 

Some experts believe cancellation of traffic rules worsened air quality in the city. This is while data show that the resumption of traffic since June 6 has had close to zero effect on air pollution so far, an official with the Department of Environment said.

Mohammad Rastegari, the head of DOE's Environmental Monitoring Office, says air quality data recorded daily by Tehran Air Quality Control Company show no decline in air pollution levels after the resumption of traffic restrictions in the city.

He added that over half of Tehran's air pollution is caused by toxic particles released from vehicles and the rest is generated by a variety of fluctuating factors.

"Tehran's air quality is a fundamental issue that cannot be solved with short-term solutions or overnight decisions. It is a multivariable equation that cannot be simply changed," he said.

Pointing to the decisive effect of environmental phenomena, such as wind, on air quality, the DOE official said wind can be much more effective than the most strict traffic schemes, for it can disperse pollution and change air stability in a few hours.

This is why, he added, traffic schemes alone cannot reduce air pollution level and it can only have a minor impact.


Iran air pollution government Parliament environmental